Carl Lawson making early case for Defensive Rookie of the Year

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 01: Carl Lawson #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates a play in the first half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Aller /Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 01: Carl Lawson #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates a play in the first half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Aller /Getty Images) /

With an impressive start to his rookie campaign, Carl Lawson is making teams regret passing up on him in last April’s draft.

It’s been amazing what a pass rush can do for a defense. The Bengals went after young, aggressive defensive lineman in the draft last spring, and (in what is typically not Cincinnati’s fashion) let them play right away.

There are plenty of young-guns making Paul Guenther’s defense jump to no. 5 in the NFL. Second-year linebacker Nick Vigil leads the club in tackles (43), William Jackson III has a pick-six and Clayton Fejedelem has gotten plenty of snaps in a banged-up safety group.

Leading the youth movement, though, is rookie Carl Lawson. The Bengals have the third-most sacks in the NFL with 18, and Lawson is responsible for 3.5, second-most on the club trailing only five-time Pro-Bowler Geno Atkins.

Lawson had his ears pinned back and was ready to hunt in week three. Lambeau Field was host to the Auburn product’s coming-out party, where he harassed Aaron Rodgers for six QB hurries and 2.5 sacks (he had an additional sack that was negated by a penalty).

Bengals defense could be saving grace of 2017 season
Carl Lawson tallied 2.5 sacks in Cincinnati’s last-second overtime loss to Green Bay in week 3. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Through five games, it’s becoming very clear the Bengals found a diamond in the rough with Lawson. Injuries derailed Lawson’s draft stock and he ended up a fourth-round pick to Cincinnati (116th overall) – the 18th edge defender selected.

With 11 games left on the regular-season slate, it’s still early to speculate. However, Lawson is making a case to do something no other Bengal has ever done.

Since the Defensive Rookie of the Year award’s inception in 1967, the Bengals have never had a recipient. The only ROY award-winners from Cincinnati were on the offensive side: wide receivers Carl Pickens (’92) and Eddie Brown (’85).

Lawson’s 3.5 sacks leads all rookies. New England’s Deatrich Wise and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt have 3 each.

Best of the rest

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Looking at the rest of the pack, it seems Lawson has the upper hand:

CB, Marshon Lattimore (NO – 11th overall):  16 tackles, forced fumble (missed two games with concussion)

LB, Jarrad Davis (DET – 21st overall): 23 tackles, sack, fumble recovery (missed two games with brain injury, now questionable with neck injury)

LB, T.J. Watt (PIT- 30th overall): 19 tackles, 3 sacks, interception (missed one game with groin injury)

CB, Rasul Douglas (PHI- 99th overall): 15 tackles, 2 interceptions

Rookies Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams have formed a decent duo in the back-end of the Jets’ secondary. New York’s 14th-ranked pass defense has led them to a shocking 3-2 start (after 0-16 talk during the preseason), but those three wins were against Blake Bortles, Jay Cutler and DeShone Kizer, who rank 26th, 30th and 32nd in passer rating, respectively.

Malik Hooker has been a ball hawk in the Colts’ secondary, snagging three interceptions.

Lawson’s own teammate may have helped his bid for the award at season’s end. Last Sunday, A.J. Green torched Buffalo rookie Tre’Davious White for a 77-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and a 47-yard reception on the last play of the third that led to the game-winning score in the Bengals’ 20-16 win over the Bills.

White was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. The 27th-overall pick last April still has a league-best 11 passes defended this season. The LSU product appears to be Lawson’s biggest competition for the award.

Next: Sweep, Sweep!

Lawson can continue to wreak havoc following the Bye Week. He, along with the rest of the defensive line, will look to get after Ben Roethlisberger, who’s been dropped just nine times this season.

After Pittsburgh, the Bengals return home to host Indianapolis. The Colts’ have surrendered 18 sacks this season, tied for third-most in the conference.