Carl Lawson’s 2018 season ended in week 8 when he suffered an ACL injury. Having rehabbed successfully, the edge rusher is expected to play a big role this year. Here is what Bengals fans can expect.
Lawson was considered a steal when the Bengals picked him up in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. He was a Pro Football Focus (PFF) pre-draft darling. As seen below, Lawson was the 3rd ranked edge rusher. In addition, he posted an elite relative athletic score.
The issue holding Lawson back was his durability. He suffered major injuries at Auburn, a torn ACL in his left knee and a hip injury. Ultimately, that allowed the Bengals to pick up a relative bargain.
His talent immediately came to the fore in his rookie year. Despite only taking 41% of defensive snaps, Lawson was second on the team in sacks with 8.5. PFF even compared him favorably to some of the most experienced edge rushers in the league:
What makes Lawson special? Let’s take a look with some clips from NFL Game Pass. He has displayed big time ability in numerous ways in his short career so far. Lawson’s pure speed was a major factor in his appeal. You can see the explosion he uses to go wide around opposing tackles before shaking off the block to get home:
Lawson is no one trick pony. In the next clip, he shows great power to long arm Taylor Lewan. This forces the tackle backwards into Marcus Mariota. The result is an incompletion out of the back of the end zone.
The former Auburn Tiger suffered from the previous regime’s reluctance to use him outside of obvious pass rushing downs. There is some hope that will change in 2019 with new faces on the sidelines. Also, Michael Johnson’s release should free up more opportunities for Lawson to be a three down player. He has shown flashes of his ability to get into the backfield and locate the runner. Case in point, the clip below against Green Bay.
Repeating the success of his rookie year will come down to his fitness. Returning from an ACL injury is always a difficult process, but we have seen other players overcome that to again find success.
Broncos edge rusher Von Miller suffered an ACL injury in 2013 and returned to action in 2014 by recording 14 sacks, 6th most in the NFL. Chiefs rusher Justin Houston suffered the same fate in the 2016 offseason. That same year, he managed four sacks in five late season starts before 18.5 total sacks over the next two years.
Lawson may not be at the level of those two players, but it shows that coming back and being productive is possible
With three major injuries in his past, Lawson will be looking for a fresh start this season. If he remains healthy, the Bengals could have one of the most dangerous young defensive linemen in the league.
Throw in Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Sam Hubbard, and the Bengals have reason to be optimistic about the state of their defensive pass rushing rotation.