Why the Slide?: Carl Lawson

By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Three years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. A year later, we started the Why Slide? series, and this year, it is back. Feel free to email me requests for “Why the Slide?” and “Why Undrafted?” at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely respond.

After being a star recruit, there was a lot of hype about Auburn edge rusher Carl Lawson. Lawson’s college career was hampered by injuries for a few years before having his best season in 2016. While the redshirt junior racked up only 30 tackles on the season, he recorded nine sacks. Some in the media had projected Lawson as a first-round pick, including ESPN draft expert Todd McShay, who projected Lawson in the first round at the end of the college football season. However in the 2017 NFL Draft, Lawson slipped to the fourth round.

WalterFootball.com knew that slide was coming as team sources were not as high on Lawson as the media mistakenly pumped him up to be. In early January, I wrote a blog that teams were grading Lawson in the mid-rounds after surveying five different teams. Four teams said they had a third/fourth-round grade on Lawson. One said they could see a team taking him a little higher than that, although another playoff general manager said he had a sixth-round grade on Lawson. Each team source independently described Lawson as being a limited player and thought he was a very stiff pass-rusher with serious medical red flags in his draft report. Those factors all combined to Lawson being graded as a mid-rounder. Thus, he was selected at an appropriate level according to teams and didn’t truly have a fall in the draft.

The Cincinnati Bengals ended Lawson’s fall when they took him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. That was a pretty good landing spot for Lawson as the Bengals badly need an edge rusher to emerge across from Carlos Dunlap as Michael Johnson is a limited run stuffer. Will Clarke hasn’t become an every-down player and is the pass-rusher who replaces Johnson, but Clarke had only four sacks in 2016, so another option was needed. Cincinnati went offense in the first and second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but the organization did select a defensive end in the third round with Kansas State’s Jordan Willis. Even with selecting Willis, Lawson should get the opportunity to compete quickly for significant playing time with Willis and Clarke. Whoever wins the playing time also will benefit from one-on-ones as teams will focus their double teams on Dunlap and/or Geno Atkins. Cincinnati is starting Lawson out as an outside linebacker, but being an edge rusher is his best skill, and that will probably be the role that Lawson gets used at. The Bengals were a nice landing spot for Lawson, and now it is up to him to prove the doubters wrong and carve out a career in the NFL.

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