At 6'3" and 269 pounds, Clemson's Shaq Lawson is an absolute beast at the defensive end position. After two years as a backup to future draft picks like Vic Beasley and Malliciah Goodman, Lawson finally got his chance to shine in 2015 — racking up 25.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.
But how much of that success was the result of playing opposite another projected first round defensive end in Kevin Dodd? And would the Raiders use their first round pick on a position (defensive end) that ranks among their strongest?
If Oakland is going to take a defensive end or pass rusher at No. 14, that player had better be a slam dunk, no-brainer. For me, Lawson doesn't fit that bill.
It sounds like some scouts wonder whether Lawson makes more sense as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, and for the Raiders I don't think they can spend the No. 14 pick trying to find the answer. With the physical build of a tank and a successful 2015 college campaign, Lawson will surely be a successful pick for someone in the second half of the first round, but I just don't think the Raiders are that team.
I have always preached drafting a proven talent in the first round instead of targeting potential. Too often, teams bypass proven talent for a player with a "higher ceiling". Lawson was the number one high school prospect in the nation and almost beat out Vic Beasley in his freshman season for the starting job — the same Vic Beasley the Falcons selected with the 8th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
After living in the shadows of Beasley, Lawson burst onto the scene in 2015 and finished among the nation's leaders in tackles for loss (25.5) and sacks (12.5). Lawson could play both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Raiders and team up with Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, Aldon Smith, and Mario Edwards Jr. to give the Raiders one of the best front-sevens in the NFL.
I love Shaq Lawson.
I've watched a lot of Clemson games over the past two years and Lawson absolutely jumps out on the tape. The Tigers have had plenty of stud defensive players to come along including former first round pick Vic Beasley and current draft-eligible players such as Kevin Dodd, Mackensie Alexander and safety Jayron Kearse, but Lawson might be the best of them all. He is very sturdily built at 6'3" and 269 pounds, and while he isn't the best athlete at defensive end, he is so strong and tough that won't be knocked off the ball — making him a nightmare to block, especially for a tight end.
Lawson has the ability to beat a double team, but if he were a starting defensive end on the Raiders the chances of him actually facing a double team with Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin or Aldon Smith right behind him are essentially zero. Anyone blocking Lawson one on one especially in the run game is going to have a very difficult time as Lawson is excellent against the run. It's for that reason I feel Lawson would be an excellent pick for the Raiders at 14, but I have doubts he will even make it that far.
There are things to really like about Shaq Lawson, but there are also some flaws that he will need to fix. He has an incredible burst at the line of scrimmage and yet is nimble enough to have a wicked spin move, plus he has incredibly high character which is always a plus for Reggie McKenzie.
On the other hand, he plays way too high for the next level. When you look at his highlight reel you see time after time where Lawson just does not lower his body enough to get the best leverage he can. Tackling too high is a liability in the NFL where the players are stronger and the rules are getting tougher in regards to contact to the head.
Still, that is a workable flaw and his passion for the game makes up for it. He is scheme versatile enough to play OLB or DE in both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments so he fits the many different facets the Raiders use with their defense. What pushes me over the line to "Pick" though is his character.
He stayed closer to home for college for his family after his dad died in a traffic accident and he also went through military school in order to get to a major school. Both of those things show the type of commitment and character Shaq Lawson has with his loyalty to family and willingness to put the hard work in. That makes him a great fit for the locker room and somebody I would be happy to call a Raider.
Those who have concern about Lawson point to his not becoming a fulltime starter until last season. That in and of itself is not unusual. He wasn't absent, however, he played in a rotation as a pass rush specialist. And once he got the job, he exploded onto the scene, racking up an FBS leading 25.5 tackles for loss and tied for fifth in FBS with 12.5 sacks.
One of his greatest attributes may be his versatility. At 6-3, 275 pounds, a team can put him at just about any pass rushing position on the defense. He could stay at his current weight and be ideal as a 4-3 defensive end, gain 10 pounds and play 3-4 defensive end, or take off a few pounds and play rush outside linebacker. He has that kind of talent.