Let’s be honest. There really are thousands of places to find your fantasy football information and it has become so mainstream in recent times, you read an abundance of duplicate information. From this point forward, up until the NFL draft (less than 150 days away!); I am going to focus on prospects likely entering the National Football League in 2016.
You won’t find too many outlets out there digging into the names I will – giving you a better knowledge base on players, both offensively and defensively. This week with the ACC championship game on tap Saturday, I will focus on the Clemson defender who garnered the most attention in 2015 and is arguably the key factor on defense for the No. 1 ranked team in college football. If you are a coach/scout at heart, like myself, this will always be a good read and a refreshing break from the number crunching game that fantasy football can be. Enjoy.
Shaq Lawson #90 Defensive End – EDGE – Clemson Tigers
EDGE is the familiar term used these days around the internet to describe a player who may stand up, may play with his hand in the dirt, but ultimately is playing on the EDGE of the defensive line, opposite of the offensive line. In this instance, Lawson plays predominantly on the right side of the defense and goes up against the most athletic offensive lineman on each team – their left tackle. Clemson plays a four-man front, whether in a 4-3 or a 4-2-5 and lines up Lawson almost always in a five-technique (outside shoulder of the left tackle).
Lawson finished second in ACC defensive player of the year voting and received the most votes out of any defender in the conference to represent the ACC on its First-Team All-ACC team. He has been a difference maker for the team, and after watching several of his games, I can say the game where I felt his impact was most on display was against Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who happens to be a sure-fire NFL first-round pick.
Lawson is a disciplined player who knows what his gap responsibilities are, but at the same time he can create havoc on defensive line stunts and slants when asked too. We are not looking at an outstanding edge rusher though in the athletic mold of a Vic Beasley – very different type of player. Lawson possesses very little speed rushing capabilities. Lawson’s best pass rush move is his spin move as he does demonstrate good balance and quick feet when using this move. Once even using it to embarrass Stanley and the left guard next to him, splitting the double-team and forcing an obvious holding call on third down at a crucial point in the game against Notre Dame.
As far as strengths go for the Clemson defensive standout – strength is his best trait on the football field. Listed at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, he plays bigger than that and is very rarely pushed back. When he gets his hands inside the opposing tackle or tight end, my money is on Lawson to drive the blocker back a few steps, no matter the size of his opponent. As a 4-3 defensive end, which is what he will play at the next level, slanting him into a gap and letting him rip underneath to occupy an entire hole was and will be a very effective tool for defensive coordinators who coach Lawson. He is not the type of defensive end who gets washed down when he has established his base.
When tight ends were asked to block him, Lawson could easily get his arms extended and shed the smaller man, using good vision to separate from the block, allowing himself a two-way go. There were some textbook, jump off the screen dominating run-stuffing plays by Lawson on film; but there were also several plays where he was a complete non-factor against a tackle who could get his hands on him.
Lawson is not a block-defeater. It’s a term I use often when talking about defensive lineman. If you want a guy to stand his ground, not get blown back and make some tackles in the run game – Lawson is your guy. If you want a guy who defeats blocks and sheds offensive tackles who attempt to get their hands on him – avoid Lawson. Too many times he let offensive lineman get their hands inside and it was game over for him the rest of the play. No, he didn’t get manhandled because of his tremendous strength, but he certainly was not athletic enough to recover and go make a play.
I couldn’t stand the way he took on pulling offensive linemen on counters or power plays. It could be the way Clemson coaches it; but against Florida State, when Florida State would pull, Lawson would try and crouch down to try and stand his ground but was rendered useless – it was not his type of game to play. He needs to take on blocks head-on and stop the pulling guard in his tracks before the runner even has a chance to recognize daylight.
Lawson is average with his hands, and while it’s apparent he is working on using his hands consistently, and truly does attempt to; too often it’s ineffective and less-talented players can control him five, six or seven plays in a row. His motor is pretty solid, but late in games when Clemson’s defense in on the field for so many plays like it was against North Carolina State, it’s obvious he is fatiguing and wearing down. Although it’s hard to knock a player who is needed on every snap for their defense, big guys get tired. It happens. His dip/rip underneath and his spin remain his best block defeaters at this point; he will definitely need improvement in this area.
Lawson, one of the best defensive players in the ACC, he is a solid run stopping 4-3 defensive end who plays disciplined football with good leg drive and displays immense amounts of strength when fresh. He will excel in a system that can scheme around his lack of true athleticism and block-shedding abilities. He is nowhere near an elite athlete or speed pass rushing specialist in the mold of many EDGE plays we have seen taken very high in the NFL draft is recent years. He is the type of player you can count on to do his job and make the occasional tackle for loss, but overall, doesn’t make such an extreme impact where he would be worth considering in the first couple rounds of the draft. While he plays bigger than his size, this indicates that he is too small to consistently play as a 4-3 three technique or as a 3-4 defensive end.
Thanks again for reading and make sure to follow me @JohnnyLFootball. I will be continuing this series from now until the NFL draft in a few short months. Also feel free to ask me any fantasy football questions you may have on Twitter. You can also catch me on the Ticket Sports Talk radio at 8:45 a.m. Eastern/7:45 a.m. Central time on Friday mornings every week in the Florida area or on the www.theticketsportsnetwork.com or on the Tune In Radio App.