New York Jets fans can’t forget how good Carl Lawson is
New York Jets defensive end Carl Lawson turned 27 years old today (June 29). The Auburn product is still in the heart of his prime.
Lawson signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the Jets in March 2021. He was the most expensive acquisition of the team’s offseason and represented the franchise’s largest investment at the edge rusher position in what felt like eons. Expectations were high.
When Lawson tore his Achilles during a joint practice against the Packers in August, the air was sucked out of the Jets’ organization. Lawson would miss the entirety of his first season with the Jets, and the team’s pass rush was nowhere near as formidable as it was expected to be with Lawson in the fold.
Lawson will have a cap hit of $15.3 million in 2022, which is currently slated to be the eighth-highest mark in the NFL among edge rushers. The team is still expecting big things from him.
We haven’t seen Lawson play a regular season game in 542 days, but we cannot let that hiatus cause us to forget how talented of a player he is when healthy. Lawson has proven that he is capable of being one of the most impactful pass rushers in the NFL.
Let’s revisit some of the intriguing aspects of Lawson’s resume that made him such an energizing addition back in 2021.
Four years of consistent top-tier pressure production
From a raw production and national recognition standpoint, Lawson didn’t break out until his fourth year (2020) when he elevated into a starting role for the first time and posted some great numbers.
In 2020, Lawson played a career-high 723 defensive snaps after never reaching the 500-snap mark in any of his first three seasons, and he recorded career-highs of 64 total pressures (per PFF), 36 tackles, 32 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles to go with 5.5 sacks.
That was the year Lawson arose on the national radar. But what gets lost in the sauce is that he was actually defeating offensive linemen and creating pressure at an elite rate throughout his entire career.
From 2017 to 2020, Lawson created pressure on 14.3% of his pass-rush snaps, which ranked fourth-best in the NFL among qualified edge rushers over that span:
- Nick Bosa (15.9%)
- Von Miller (15.4%)
- Joey Bosa (15.0%)
- Carl Lawson (14.3%)
Lawson had an elite pressure rate in each of his first four NFL seasons. His career-low pressure rate is the 13.1% mark he had in 2019, which is still fantastic. For perspective, that’s equal to the rate that Buffalo Bills edge rusher Jerry Hughes had in 2021, which placed him 16th-best out of 90 qualifiers.
A lack of playing time is what kept Lawson from turning his efficient per-snap play into the splashy high-volume totals that garner recognition across the league. Injuries were a problem (13 games missed from 2018 to 2019), and the Cincinnati coaching staff also did not give the former fourth-round pick all that many snaps until late in his third season.
Efficiency-wise, we have yet to see Carl Lawson have a season in which he was anything less than “great” as a pass rusher. His reliability in this department had to be a huge reason that the Jets felt confident about throwing a hefty contract at him.
A dominant 2020 season
Lawson played 68% of the Bengals’ defensive snaps in 2020 after never hitting the 60% mark in any of his first three seasons. He maintained his high efficiency over the larger workload, leading to some sizable totals.
Lawson ranked fourth among edge rushers with 64 total pressures in 2020, and was one of only six edge rushers to eclipse the 60-pressure mark:
- Shaquil Barrett, TB (77)
- T.J. Watt, PIT (73)
- Emmanuel Ogbah, MIA (66)
- Carl Lawson, CIN (64)
- Romeo Okwara, DET (61)
- Joey Bosa, LAC (61)
It’s Lawson’s superb explosion that allows him to cause havoc so frequently. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Lawson ranked top five in average get-off time from an edge alignment in each of his first four seasons. In 2020, he placed fourth-best as he took an average of 0.73 seconds to cross the line of scrimmage after the snap.
While Lawson only converted his 64 pressures into 5.5 sacks, that was hardly his fault. He played on a terrible Bengals defensive line that was completely devoid of talent on the interior, which caused Lawson to receive an extremely minimal number of high-quality sack opportunities.
Cincinnati’s best interior pass rusher in 2020 was Christian Covington, who tied for 87th among interior defensive linemen with 10 pressures. Combined, all of Cincy’s interior defensive linemen had 37 pressures.
How awful is that? Well, in 2020, there were 18 interior defensive linemen who had more than 37 pressures by themselves. That includes Lawson’s now-teammates Quinnen Williams (39) and John Franklin-Myers (51).
Lawson also ranked second among all NFL defenders (regardless of position) with 32 quarterback hits in 2020. Further exemplifying how lonely he was in Cincinnati’s defensive front, Lawson was responsible for 43.8% of the Bengals’ 73 quarterback hits as a team, which was the highest portion of any player in the NFL.
Watch Lawson’s film and you’ll have a hard time finding reps in which he blew a legitimate sack opportunity. All he needs is better players to line up with, and many of those pressures will turn into sacks.
In New York, Lawson will get to play alongside the top-notch interior duo of Williams and Franklin-Myers along with many other solid pass rushers at all positions. Lawson will see more sack chances pushed in his direction than he ever got in southwestern Ohio.
But even if those bonus sacks do not come, the pressure that Lawson creates is still supremely valuable nonetheless. Pressured pass attempts lead to takeaway opportunities for the secondary. Additionally, it would be just as nice for the Jets if Lawson turns out to be the guy who tees up newfound sack chances for everyone else rather than the other way around.
Lawson’s ceiling is high, but it remains to be seen how he will recover
It is not a guarantee that Lawson will be the player that he was when he accumulated all of the numbers laid out above. We have to see how much gas he has left in the tank after the third serious leg injury of his career (he had one ACL tear on each knee prior to rupturing his left Achilles in 2021).
Lawson’s athletic status is especially important considering that his game relies heavily on elite get-off speed. His technique is certainly excellent, so he can still be effective without all-world athleticism, but it’s Lawson’s top-flight burst that gives him star-caliber potential. How much explosion Lawson has left will be one of the biggest variables for the Jets this year.
If healthy and still in peak form (or at least close to it), Lawson has the talent to be the best player on the Jets’ roster in 2022.
If he is healthy that remains to be see. Joe Douglas took a big chance on this guy knowing his injury history. If Lawson gets injured again this is all on Joe Douglas. No other way to say it.
It was a risk yes, but it was a good risk for the team even if it doesn’t work out. These things happen. The key here is if Lawson gets hurt again, the Jets can walk away next year with about $300K cap hit. I know that doesn’t say much about what they got for their money but it also will allow them to re-allocate and bring in someone else. His injury is one of those things that just happens. I see it as different than a recurring soft tissue injury. I’m not confident he comes back ready but I’m hopeful.
Like I said before it is all on Joe Douglas. Whether or not he is around to try to fix that mistake is another matter.
Ok…I’ll play along. Let’s say it is really “on Joe Douglas”, what would you do vis-a-via the GM if Lawson gets injured again?
It all depends what the record of the Jets is this year. The NFL is a wins business as you know. It is all about the wins. Let us see where this all goes.