2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Auburn OLB Carl Lawson

From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to examine as many prospects as possible and showcase both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

Carl Lawson/OLB Auburn – 6’2 253

The Good

– NFL frame who appears to have good length
– Quick off the ball, can win with first step and stresses OTs with ability to win the edge
– Flexibility to flatten and bend the corner, hard to push up the arc
– Quick, heavy hands who produces a strong initial punch
– Wins in multiple ways (speed, dip/rip, long arm)
– Smart pass rusher who has a plan and is able to read the set of the OT, works off it, ability to counter
– Capable force player against the run who shows overall good technique and ability to hold his gap
– Strong at the POA and uses length to create space, plays with proper leverage and hand placement
– Played on both sides of the ball and time in two and three point stance, looked just as good with hand up as in the dirt

The Bad

– Checkered medical history that limited his starting experience (20 games)
– Little experience dropping into coverage, has to learn how to play going backwards
– Situational issues against the run, vulnerable to crashing down on trap blocks when TE blocks down, loses contain
– Needs to stay square vs run, will try to spin away and lose vision on the football

Bio

– 20 career starts
– Career: 24 TFL, 14 sacks, 3 FF
– 2016: 13.5 TFL, 9 sacks
– Tore ACL in left knee during spring of 2014, missed entire season
– Suffered cracked hip early in 2015, missed six games but returned to finish out the season
– One of top recruits out of high school
– Dad played fullback at Georgia Tech

Tape Breakdown

In an EDGE class full of talent, Carl Lawson is at the top of the class for me. He has everything; size, speed, power, and overall technique. The physical tools are there. A quick first step and heavy hands make for a successful pass rusher.

As the LOLB below, he wins with his first step and rip-move against the Clemson right tackle. Forces Deshaun Watson to climb the pocket and throw the ball before he wants to, putting it ahead of the tight end on the flag route and falling incomplete.

You again see his ability to corner and bend the edge. Beats the right tackle off the ball, turns his shoulder upfield, and nearly comes away with the sack.

His hand use and extension is advanced, especially for an underclassmen who really doesn’t have that much football under his belt. Gets his arms extended to create space against the tight end, reads where the running back is going, sheds, and makes the tackle at the line. Lawson is already an above average player against the run. Not a one-trick pony. And that’s attractive.

Technique is something he shows as a force defender here. Watch him keep his outside half unblocked as the contain player to turn the back inside to his help. Really well done.

He shows his IQ as a pass rusher, too. Working against the left tackle, he’s initially pushed upfield, his speed rush failing. Instead of staying course and likely getting run upfield beyond the junction point, he stops, counters with a spin, and gives himself an opportunity to win. At worst, he’s able to keep contain and not let the QB escape. Rush lane integrity is critical to generating pressure – can’t have a bunch of freelancers out there.

Now to some of the problems. Lawson struggles with some details against the run. Too often, he chases downhill on gap schemes where the tight end is blocking down, giving up the edge and running into the pulling guard. I don’t think he’s using a wrong-arm technique, intentionally attacking the inside half of the puller, either. Here’s a good example.

Or here, where he tries to spin around to get off the block of the right tackle, losing vision on the back, and being unable to close the gap as the runner speeds through.

The biggest elephant in the room, the one listed above, is his medical concerns. A torn ACL and a bum hip in back-to-back years washed out back-to-back seasons. That’ll make the Combine medical checks very important for him. You may see some stories come out negative against him; I’m just speculating, to be clear, but be it the truth or someone trying to put out bad info to scare off teams (it happens), keep an eye out for that.

Still, Lawson is one of the most talented and refined pass rushers I’ve seen. Of course, for Pittsburgh, he seems like the perfect fit. A big, long, athletic, SEC pass rushing outside linebacker. It’s a bed they’ve gotten in – or thought they had gotten in (looking at you, Jarvis Jones).

He’s my favorite for the 30th overall pick in the draft.

Projection: Late Day One

Games Watched: vs Clemson, at Alabama, vs Oklahoma, vs Texas A&M

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey Davis

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • capehouse

    I think he’s my favorite for 30 too, and only reason he gets there is because of injury concerns. As far as natural edge rushers that could play OLB for us I have him top 3 behind Myles Garrett and Tim Williams.

  • Petherson Silveira

    I hope we can grab him.

  • steelburg

    Definitely one of my favorite pass rushers in this class. But I just can’t get on board with the injuries. Lately we have had so many issues with our picks being injured I would be scared to touch Lawson. I was leaning towards Smoot in the first round I get the feeling his stock is being pushed towards the 2nd round. I’m now leaning towards Charles Harris he is growing on me and that Missouri pedigree is hard to deny.

  • WreckIess

    I’m warming up to him as a pick. At first I didn’t like him at all as a player, but the more games DraftBreakdown puts out of him the more I see it. I do keep hearing how great of a fit that he’d be for Baltimore and I pray that never happens. Suggs and Lawson would be a nightmare.

  • Mark

    I didn’t like his hustle on plays beyond the line of scrimmage. Showed good hand placement though.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Pass

  • RickM

    Another analyst said he sees the twitch, explosiveness and power, and he thinks he’ll shine at the combine. But he sees him as a little stiff and straight-line and that can be countered more easily at an NFL level. Could you address what he is seeing versus what you’re seeing? I respect both opinions and I’m just trying to understand how you’re seeing slightly different things. Thanks.

  • TroymanianDevil

    I wouldn’t be unhappy with him but there are others I like more for 30. I guess I’ll wait til after the combine to make my final decision

  • Alex Kozora

    I don’t see much stiffness. I think you’re seeing a couple clips above where you’re seeing that bend. But hey, different people see different things depending on what they watched.

  • RickM

    I’m against signing guys with repetitive injuries in college. Does a Year 2 ACL and a Year 3 hip injury that cost him half a season qualify? I’m not sure. He did play the last season and a half injury-free. I guess for me I’d ask ‘how much better is he than the next OLB on the list’. If there’s a decent gap, I roll the dice.

  • LucasY59

    I would not use pick #30 on him, I’m not saying he doesnt have talent, he does, and I could change my mind, but I would rather have Mckinley, Watt, or Harris (and I could change my mind on them after the combine as well) or wait until the 2nd or 3rd pick where they could still get a player like Joe Mathis or Derek Rivers, and since I think they will be doubling up on pass rushers in the draft a 1st rd pick is not a necessity (but if there is a OLB they really like in the 1st they should take him)

  • Alex Kozora

    That was my thought too. The other leg having to work harder and it put additional stress. But I couldn’t find out for sure what hip it was.

  • RickM

    Lol, you’re right it was tough to find. Many links later, ACL on left knee in spring training in ’14 and right hip during first game back in ’15. The hip injury is on you tube if interested.

  • Alex Kozora

    I’ll try to check it out. I definitely know it was the left knee for the ACL…the hip was more difficult to try and find.

  • PaeperCup

    Injury concerns BAH!!!

    Those hip injuries never seem to go away either.

  • Sdale

    Those are my favorites as well. After seeing this, I really like Lawson, but based on these profiles, I’m feeling more and more confident we’re going to get an above average to really good OLB at 30. Normally, that’s just not the case. I’m excited.

  • RickM

    One person with a supposed source said it was a small fracture in the hip socket, which matches Lawson’s statement that he heard a “crack” at the time of the injury. There clearly wasn’t a Pitta-like dislocation where the thighbone was supposedly pushed out of the socket; Lawson wouldn’t have been able to return so quickly. I’m not sure this will be a chronic problem like Keenan Lewis or Dennis Pitta. It kind of sounds like it might be a one-time thing. But you never know.

  • PaeperCup

    Thanks for the clarification. Pitta was exactly who I was thinking of when I read Hip Injury. He did come back stronger than ever after the injury.

  • Ike Evans

    Walterfootball reported that….i agree with alex. Don’t see the stiffness

  • Ike Evans

    I like him more then tak, taco, tj watt, smoot, tim Williams, and ryan anderson……maybe even over harris but those medicals have to check out

  • RickM

    Yes he did. But he sure had a rocky time getting back. Didn’t think he would make it, but good for him. A lot of guys would have given up.

  • RickM

    Actually it was Lance Zierlein that was critiquing him. So I guess a couple have that view. Different folks see different things, but you certainly don’t see stiffness is what Alex has provided.

  • SFIC

    Sigh! Another edge rusher whose entire highlight reel standouts comes off the left side.

  • George Hareras

    Walterfootball are a bunch of jabronis

  • Steeler83

    I agree with you. Lawson or Harris could be huge at #30 if Lawson’s medical check out is good !

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Great minds think alike…he is my favorite all around edge rusher in the draft out side of Garrett who we have 0 chance of getting and like you said he has all the tools. My only major concern is like u said his medical but he is my 1st round target as well.