Prospects in Bowls: Auburn DE/OLB Carl Lawson

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — bowl season. Not all of the games feature great teams, but every game has a couple of draft prospects. Throughout bowl season, TOJ will be profiling the top draft prospects playing in each game. Michael McLaughlin continues the coverage with a look at Auburn edge rusher Carl Lawson:

For three years now, NFL Draft experts and scouts have identified Carl Lawson as a player who has the potential to be an impact edge rusher in the league. After a four sack campaign as a freshman, however, a torn acl in 2014 and a fractured hip in 2015 slowed his development.

A healthy Lawson in 2016 is one of the biggest reasons that Auburn is ranked fifth in the country in scoring defense. At 6-2, 257 pounds, he has  9.5 sacks heading into the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma on Jan. 2.

Strengths

Lawson’s biggest strength is his explosion off the ball. His first-step quickness is combined with an ability to use his heavy hands to shed blockers while rushing the passer.

It was clear he was giving 2016 13th overall pick Laremy Tunsil problems in their matchup last year.

The redshirt junior is dedicated in the weight room and this strength translates to the field well. In passing situations, his shorter builder has helped him dip and rip. Lawson (No. 55) has also shown he can rush on the interior as well.

In addition, he has an effective spin move to the inside which he does not overuse. Against the run, he should at least be adequate. He has displayed the ability to use his arms to keep lineman off him and anchor with his lower body.

Playing in Auburn’s “Buck” position, he has experience playing both with his hand in the ground and standing up.

Weaknesses

With his compact build and fractured hip, it is questionable how well he will handle being in space. His flexibility to bend the edge is not elite either. In addition, was he not asked to drop into coverage frequently at Auburn and nor should he be in the NFL. This is a player you want moving forward. At times, though, his aggressiveness ran him out of running plays.

It will also be interesting to see how long his arms measure at the combine. He did not bat passes down in college, and I wouldn’t expect him to contribute much of that as a pro.

The biggest question mark with him will be his health, however. He stayed healthy in 2016 and his consistency improved. If healthy, he can be integral part of a defense. He helped hold Lamar Jackson and Louisville to 24 points in 2015, totaling one sack and two tackles for a loss before fracturing his hip.

Projection:

He has the talent to be a double-digit sack player. Dee Ford, who played with Lawson at Auburn, has ten sacks for the Chiefs this season and was not as highly touted out of college. As long as Lawson displays the burst he shows on tape in his first ten yards of the 40-yard dash, he should hear his name called in the first two rounds.

Photo Credit: DraftNet.com