Summary: Over the past few years, Clemson featured a high-powered offense led by some superstar point-producers like Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. While those were good Tigers teams, 2015 was Clemson's best year in decades thanks to a balanced squad that features a tough defense. The best player on that defense, and a top prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft, is junior defensive end Shaq Lawson. After flashing as a backup in 2014, Lawson was very impressive during 2015.
For the season, Lawson totaled 60 tackles, 25.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He turned in a strong performance against Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley where he showed the skills to get the better of a future NFL tackle.
Lawson has proven to be a well-balanced defender who can hold his ground against the run and get after the quarterback. He is thickly built and strong at the point of attack. Lawson also shows the strong base to hold his gap and not get pushed around.
Sources view Lawson as a smooth pass-rusher who has some natural pass-rushing skills for the pros. He has shown some variety in moves with a spin move, a bull rush and a speed rush, plus he gives a second effort to get after the signal-caller. Lawson can fight his way through blocks and close on the quarterback. The junior is not an explosive speed rusher or a twitchy athlete like former teammate Vic Beasley, but is effective at getting after the quarterback. Sources say that Lawson is deceptively athletic, and at the combine, he showed that he could play in space as a standup outside linebacker. He also showed more speed than expected in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.70 seconds.
For the NFL, Lawson could fit in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. In the latter, he could be an edge-rushing linebacker. In a 4-3 defense, Lawson could be a nice left defensive end with the strength to go against right tackles, and his speed will be more effective against them than it would be versus NFL left tackles.
For the 2016 NFL Draft, sources from a few teams said they have given a second-round grade to Lawson. A few other teams believe that Lawson will be a mid- to late first-round pick. It is very possible that the team that likes him enough to draft him will take him in the first round.
Player Comparison: Elvis Dumervil. Lawson kind of reminds me of a taller, slower, stronger version of Dumervil. Since being drafted by Denver, Dumervil has been a consistent and steady pass-rusher for the Ravens and Broncos. Lawson isn't as fast as Dumervil off the edge, but Lawson is bigger. Both of them are smooth pass-rushers who display natural skills for getting after the quarterback. In the NFL, I think Lawson will be a similar player to Dumervil, though not quite as good.
NFL Matches: Tampa Bay, Detroit, Oakland, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Baltimore
In the first two rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, there are a lot of teams that could consider taking a pass-rusher. The Bucs badly need an edge rusher. If Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner are off the board, sources say Tampa Bay could give consideration to Georgia's Leonard Floyd, Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence, and possibly Lawson to upgrade the pass rush.
In the teens and middle of the second round, there are some options for Lawson. The Lions could use an edge rusher to pair with Ziggy Ansah, while Buffalo could use a replacement for Mario Williams, who departed for the Dolphins via free agency.
Miami has Cameron Wake and Mario Williams for next year, but they're both aging. Adding a young defensive end will be necessary very soon. Oakland tried Aldon Smith, but obviously can't count on him to stay on the field. The Raiders signed Bruce Irvin recently, but they could consider more talent at defensive end.
The Falcons badly need an edge rusher to go with Vic Beasley as Atlanta had the smallest sack total in the NFL last year. Lawson could be in play for the Falcons.
The Colts could use a difference-maker and a young pass-rusher to replace Robert Mathis. Cincinnati could use a pass-rusher to go on the other side from Carlos Dunlap.
Cleveland could use a pass-rusher to replace the bust known as Barkevious Mingo. Paul Kruger had only 2.5 sacks in 2015, so if Lawson falls to pick No. 32, the Browns could end his fall.
The Jaguars could use an edge rusher to go with Dante Fowler as their pass defense has been a real weakness. If Lawson slips to the second round, he could be in play for them if they take a defensive back with their first selection. Baltimore needs a young pass-rusher as Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are aging. Lawson would be a good value at the Ravens' second-round pick.