Summary: The 2014 NFL Draft was flooded with underclassmen; a number of whom made a bad decision in leaving college early. One of the debatable players in this year's underclassmen is Lawrence. The converted defensive end is raw and could have improved his game by returning to college. However, Lawrence could end up being chosen as a top-64 pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, so taking an injury risk by returning to school could have backfired for him.
Lawrence started out his career in the junior college ranks before going to Boise State. He replaced Shea McClellin in 2012 as the Broncos lead pass-rusher and had an instant impact. He showed nice pass-rush ability with 9.5 sacks. Lawrence also led the defensive line in tackles (48) and tackles for a loss (13.5). He chipped in four forced fumbles and an interception, too. His raw athletic ability was enough for him to beat collegiate offensive linemen.
Lawrence was fairly quiet in the early going of 2013. The junior had one sack in the first three games and didn't produce an impressive game going against Fresno State's passing offense led by Derek Carr. Lawrence turned in a big game against Air Force with nine tackles and two tackles for a loss. He then recorded sacks in six straight games - 3.5 sacks came against Nevada. However, Lawrence didn't record a sack in the final three games of the season. He totaled 72 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, one pass batted and three forced fumbles for the year.
As a pro, Lawrence looks like a speed rusher off the edge. He has a good burst and speed to turn the corner. Lawrence does a nice job of fighting off blockers and closing on the quarterback. In the passing-driven NFL, Lawrence's speed-rush skills are in demand. With development, he has the potential and athletic skill set to become a double-digit sack producer.
Lawrence has added some weight since the end of the season, but he clearly can't remain at defensive end in the NFL. In a 4-3 defense, Lawrence could play linebacker on run downs and move to end in passing situations, but his best fit would be as a 3-4 outside linebacker. However, he'll still be a project in that positions. Lawrence will need to learn how to drop into pass coverage and roam in space. Boise State didn't have him do that.
For the NFL, Lawrence needs to add more strength. He isn't weak for his size, but he can struggle to hold his ground when runs come downhill straight at him. Lawrence's run defense shouldn't be as big of a weakness at linebacker, but he still needs to get better. Lawrence could stand to refine a repertoire of pass-rushing moves. His speed alone won't be enough to beat NFL offensive tackles.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, Lawrence looks likely to be a second-round pick.
Player Comparison: Justin Houston. Lawrence's skill set as an edge rusher resembles Houston, but I'm not confident that Lawrence will be as good as Houston is for Kansas City. Houston (6-3, 258) is similar size to Lawrence, and both players lack elite explosiveness. They both were good college producers with some natural pass-rush ability. Houston has played extremely well since being a third-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Lawrence could go in the second or third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and if he pans out, he could be a player similar to Houston.
NFL Matches: Jacksonville, Detroit, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Arizona, Philadelphia, San Diego, Green Bay, Cincinnati, San Francisco
There are a number of teams that could consider Lawrence on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft. Leading it off would be Jacksonville. Last year, many were surprised when the Jaguars passed on Dion Jordan. Jacksonville has a pathetic pass rush for which Lawrence would be an upgrade. The team also must improve its outside linebackers.
Detroit wants a pass-rushing outside linebacker to go on the others side from Ziggy Ansah. The Lions are said to want a 3-4 edge-rushing type for their new defense.
The Cardinals, Saints, Colts, Eagles, Packers, Chargers and 49ers are all 3-4 defenses that could use another pass-rushing outside linebacker. It wouldn't be surprising if one of those teams targets Lawrence on Day 2 since that scheme would be the ideal fit for him.
The Bengals could be an interesting fit. Cincinnati lost Michael Johnson in free agency and James Harrison was cut. Lawrence could be a good pass-rushing weapon with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.