Shaq Lawson gives the New York Jets an above-average starter on the edge
The New York Jets were hurting badly on the edge following the season-ending injuries to Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry. After Lawson’s season-ending injury prior to the team’s second preseason game, New York watched its edge rushers collect one quarterback hit and zero sacks over the ensuing two games.
Former Houston Texans defensive end Shaq Lawson will help the Jets land on their feet.
Acquired by Joe Douglas and the Jets with a sixth-round pick that they received from the 49ers for Jordan Willis, Lawson is an above-average starter who will boost the Jets’ edge production both against the run and against the pass. He will help Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s four-man rush stay afloat.
Lawson’s profile paints the picture of a player who could be a steal for the measly price of a sixth-round pick.
Lawson turned 27 years old in June. The 19th overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Clemson, he is entering his sixth NFL season after spending the first four in Buffalo and the fifth in Miami. He was traded to Houston in March.
Lawson has played in 65 out of 81 possible regular season and playoff games (80.2%). He has missed an average of 3.2 regular season games per year.
Things have improved recently for Lawson. He has only missed four games over the past three seasons.
A shoulder injury ailed Lawson in 2020. Lawson missed games in Weeks 5 and 16 due to the shoulder.
Lawson is listed at 6-foot-3 and 267 pounds. Here are some of his 2016 Combine measurements (he weighed 269 pounds at the time) and how they compare against edge rushers all-time:
- Arm length: 32.75 inches (18th)
- Hand size: 10 inches (58th)
- 10-yard split: 1.63 seconds (58th)
- 40-yard dash: 4.70 seconds (77th)
- Vertical jump: 33 inches (50th)
- Broad jump: 120 inches (77th)
- 3-cone drill: 7.16 seconds (64th)
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.21 seconds (90th)
Recording a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.12 out of 10, Lawson is a great athlete. He has excellent quickness for his size.
Lawson has developed into a very good pass rusher over the past two years after a fairly quiet first three years of his career. He had 24 more pressures over the last two seasons (77) than over his first three (53).
Lawson broke out with impressive pass-rushing numbers for the Bills in 2019 and then carried that production over to Miami in 2020:
- 2020: 15.4% Pro Football Focus pass-rush win rate (78th percentile among EDGE), 11.1% pressure rate (73rd)
- 2019: 15.2% Pro Football Focus pass-rush win rate (73rd), 13.6% pressure rate (81st)
From 2019-20, Lawson tied for 20th among all players and 15th among edge rushers with 36 quarterback hits.
Lawson is not a one-dimensional player. He is useful in both phases.
Since 2017 (counting out a 2016 rookie year where he struggled), Lawson owns a composite Pro Football Focus run defense grade of 70.6. For reference, that would have ranked at the 82nd percentile among qualified edge defenders in 2020. The league average for the position was 61.4 last season.
After bursting onto the scene as a pass rusher in 2019 – proving himself as a capable player in both run and pass situations – the Dolphins trusted Lawson to play the biggest role of his career in 2020.
Lawson averaged a career-high 40.8 snaps per game last season, playing 64% of Miami’s defensive snaps in his average game.
During his 2019 breakout year with the Bills, Lawson was more of a situational player. He averaged 32.2 snaps per game and played 50% of the snaps on average.
Lawson’s role with the Bills in 2019 was more similar to the one he will be asked to play with the Jets than his role with the Dolphins in 2020.
Buffalo had Lawson playing on the edge with his hands in the dirt on the vast majority of his snaps, just as Robert Saleh’s defensive approach calls for. Lawson lined up at outside defensive end on 88.9% of his snaps that season.
Miami asked Lawson to take on a greater variety of responsibilities. Snaps at outside defensive end made up only 52.0% of his playing time. He saw a massive increase in snaps at outside linebacker (24.5%) and even kicked inside for plenty of snaps on the interior defensive line (21.4%). For good measure, he played inside linebacker on 2.1% of his snaps.
Lawson leans towards the right side of the defensive line but can play on the left as well. In 2019, he had a 36%/64% left-right split. Miami had him as a right-side-dominant player, employing him with an 8%/92% split.
Carl Lawson was set to be the Jets’ full-time right defensive end, so Shaq will likely fill those shoes.
Shaq Lawson is a good two-way starting defensive end who fits the Jets’ scheme and will give them the short-term upgrade they needed after their onslaught of injuries. He is not a game-wrecker in either phase, but he has proven over multiple seasons that he is a better producer in both phases of the game than significantly more than half of his peers.
Lawson is signed into 2022. The Texans will take on $5.3 million of his $10.8 cap hit next year, meaning he will count only $5.5 million on the Jets’ cap sheet. In 2021, his cap hit will be $1.5 million.
If Lawson continues producing at the level he did from 2019-20, he will prove to be an enormous coup for the price of a sixth-round pick and $7 million in cap space over two seasons.
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