Remember Carl Lawson? He’s the latest member of the Cincinnati Bengals that a bunch of Pittsburgh Steelers fans are envious of. I would have to include myself in that group, considering that I mocked him to Pittsburgh in the second round.
Granted, he slid all the way to the fourth round where the Bengals chose him, but I would have been satisfied with selecting him in the third round even after the drafting of T.J. Watt in the first. Anyway, the point is that, while he did not emerge as a rookie starter, he had a quality season in his first year in the league.
In fairly limited playing time, used primarily in pass-rushing situations, the Auburn product produced eight and a half sacks on the year and was the most productive pass-rusher of the entire rookie class. On a per-snap basis, he was one of the better rushers in the league, in fact, even with a somewhat limited sample size.
That skill set that he demonstrated in 2017 was enough for Pro Football Focus to include him on their list of the 10 players that they believe are most likely to make a push to crack their top 101 players list for next season.
Author Steve Palazzolo writes of the young Bengal, checking in at number five, that his fall to the fourth round was one of the biggest surprises of the draft, saying that “he played like a first-round talent at Auburn and that talent showed up on the field as a rookie. He led all rookies with 59 total pressures (10 sacks, 11 hits, 38 hurries) and his 83.9 pass-rush grade ranked 20th among all edge defenders”.
That said, at least currently, his body of work is somewhat limited, as he is still regarded primarily as a pass-rusher, and without solidifying his game against the run, it will be difficult for him to develop into an every-down player.
“Lawson may never be an excellent run defender”, the article reads, “but he’s already shown what he’s capable of when rushing the passer and with a few more opportunities next season, he could sneak into the Top 101 as a pass-rush specialist”.
As I mentioned at the top of the article, Lawson is not the only Bengal over which Steelers fans are envious. Many wanted Pittsburgh to select cornerback William Jackson III in the first round, but Cincinnati got to him first. He missed the entirety of his rookie season due to injury but had a strong second season.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, who ranked him at number 44 on their top 101 players list for 2017 (higher than all but two members of the Steelers), he only allowed one reception per 26.4 snaps in coverage, which was the best rate of all cornerbacks.
His entry specifically mentions Antonio Brown, against whom in coverage he was targeted seven times. He yielded no receptions while recording four pass breakups. He only allowed 34.9 percent of all of his targets to be completed.
(Full disclosure, Andrew Billings is not on the list.)