New Orleans Saints 2016 NFL Draft Profile: Shaq Lawson

Oct 10, 2015; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson (90) reacts between plays during the first half against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 10, 2015; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson (90) reacts between plays during the first half against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /

Shaq Lawson is an enticing prospect for the New Orleans Saints in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft, especially considering the sorry state of their defense.

We continue our New Orleans Saints NFL draft profile coverage with Clemson star Shaq Lawson, quite possibly the best defensive end in this incoming rookie class.

Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 269 LBS
Arm Length: 32 3/4 inches
Hands: 10 inches

Combine Results:
40-yard dash: 4.70 seconds (Top performer)
Vertical: 33 inches
Broad jump: 120 inches
3-Cone drill: 7.16 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.21 seconds (Top performer)

Shaq Lawson may be the best defensive end in this draft class.  It’s a two-horse race between the Clemson Tiger and Ohio State Buckeye Joey Bosa, and depending on who you ask, the gap between the two is narrowing daily.

Lawson was overshadowed by Atlanta Falcons edge rusher Vic Beasley while they were teammates, but he was always there.  Lawson racked up 21 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks across two years before starting in 2015, when he led the charge for Clemson’s National Championship campaign.  Lawson broke out in a big way with 24.5 tackles for loss (leading the nation) and 12.5 sacks to solidify himself as one of the top defensive ends in the country.

Lawson’s talent is rare because he is capable of defending the run while also attacking passers.  He has the size and athleticism to start from day one at any end position, whether as an interior five-technique in sub-packages, starting at base seven-technique, or spelling sophomore Hau’oli Kikaha at the wide nine-technique.  Lawson is such an outrageous athlete that he can conceivably line up anywhere on the perimeter of the defensive front.

What’s intriguing is that Shaq Lawson still has room to improve.  He is a stellar run defender who knows how to anchor his lower body against advancing offensive linemen and keep his eyes in the backfield to track runners.  He could continue to refine his pass-rush skills to be an even-better pass rusher, combining his superb athleticism with diverse hand-fighting moves.  Kikaha, who outproduced Beasley with four sacks and four forced fumbles, compared to four sacks and two forced fumbles, would be a great complement and teammate to Lawson.

Some NFL draft observers (and apparently a few NFL decision-makers) have ranked Lawson’s teammate Kevin Dodd higher than Lawson, which makes no sense.  Dodd was prioritized lower than Lawson by offensive lines in college, with Lawson often seeing double-team blocks and Dodd facing a tight end or fullback.  Dodd was given easier assignments and still didn’t match Lawson’s level of play consistently.

Dodd picked up 8 of his 12.5 sacks and 15 of his 24 tackles for loss in the last five games of the 2015 season.  Dodd was also outperformed by Lawson in every athletic drill at Clemson’s Pro Day.  On top of all of that, Dodd will turn 24 in July while Lawson will turn 22 a month earlier.  There’s no serious argument that can be made to say Dodd is a better prospect than Lawson.  Not to say that Dodd isn’t a good player – he’ll be a top 50 draft pick, and may go in the first round – but any scout, coach, or general manager who values their job will agree Shaq Lawson is the better option.

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How he fits with the New Orleans Saints:
Shaq Lawson would immediately start opposite of Cameron Jordan at defensive end and turn one of the league’s worst pass rushes into one of the most-exciting.  He would be a perfect fit at strongside defensive end to complement Kikaha and other sub-rushers Kasim Edebali (five sacks in 2015, second on the team), Davis Tull (redshirted his rookie season but had 37 sacks in college), and Obum Gwacham.

Lawson would also do a lot to shore up one of the NFL’s worst run defenses.  New Orleans allowed 129.4 yards on the ground per game last year, second-worst in pro football.  Lawson wasn’t the only reason for Clemson’s success against the run in 2015, but he did play a big role in fielding the country’s 19th-best run defense (out of 128 eligible schools).

As a young, cornerstone defender against both the run and the pass, Lawson would be around for a long time in New Orleans and should expect to have a storied career.  The only question is whether or not minor hamstring and shoulder injuries will let him slide to the 12th overall pick in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft.  If he does, the Saints should run to the podium to bring Lawson to New Orleans.

Next: New Orleans Saints 2016 preseason opponents revealed

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