Sit back and think about the 2016 NFL Draft for a second. When you think about the top players in the draft, who do you think of?
You probably think of guys like Jalen Ramsey, Laremy Tunsil, Joey Bosa, Myles Jack. These are the four players who have been propped up as the top tier players in this draft. The elites. The blue chips.
So what do you do when you pick No. 5 overall in a four-player draft like the Jacksonville Jaguars are this year?
Well, there are two options: One option is you sit and hope for everything you have that one of the four teams in front of you takes a quarterback, Ezekiel Elliot, or well, anybody. The second option is that you can start to explore the backup plans. In this case, you'd need to start looking at the second-tier prospects.
When looking at the second-tier defensive prospects in this draft, there are two names that should rise to the top. Not Reggie Ragland, who is a little too slow. Not Vernon Hargreaves, who is a little too small. And not Jaylon Smith, who is a little too hurt.
This leaves Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson as the premier second-tier defenders.
For the Jaguars specifically, Buckner makes no sense as a draft pick. The team that is stacked at defensive tackle for 2016. I will make a separate post for him later, but for some reason, people have chosen to be stubborn on this topic so it is always smart to take the opportunity to reiterate this: The Jaguars are stacked at defensive tackle and that's where Buckner plays best.
This leaves the last man standing. The backup plan. If the blue chips are gone, he is hopefully your next Jacksonville Jaguar. Shaq Lawson.
One year wonder?
When discussing Shaq Lawson as a football player it is important to know not only where he currently is as a football player, but where he has been that has brought him there.
One negative that you may hear about Lawson is that he is a one year wonder. Unlike Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Shilique Calhoun, and other prominent defenders in this class, Lawson had to bide his time before being put on the field. He played some snaps in every game in his freshman and sophomore year, but he didn't truly get a full-time role until 2015, where he took over for the departed Vic Beasley. Out of his 20 career sacks, Lawson got 12.5 of them in 2015 alone.
But this should not be a worry with Lawson. In fact, this should be looked at as a positive. With Joey Bosa, the biggest argument against him is that you might not be getting much more than what he is now. He might be maxed out. This is not the case for Shaq. In fact, it is the exact opposite.
For a player who played a situational and rotational role for the majority of his college career, Lawson was a dominant player when he was finally given the opportunity. He was an emotional leader for a Clemson Defense that only returned one defensive lineman from the year before.
He also leads by example on the field. In the two most important games of Lawson's career (against Oklahoma and Alabama) Lawson produced three total sacks. He also was all over the quarterback in the game against Notre Dame as he locked horns with Ronnie Stanley all game.
Did Lawson play a lot of snaps compared to some of his peers at the top of the draft? No.
Does he have years on years of production? No.
But he is a one year wonder by circumstance only. He displayed enough technical and physical prowess in his one year of starting that most pass rushing prospects never show.
Swing for the fences
Whatever team drafts Lawson should understand what they are getting. Are they getting a one year wonder? No, as we've discussed. Are they getting a player who is anywhere near what the final product he might be able to turn into? Nope. Are they getting a moldable clay that, if they ensure they develop correctly, could become a dominant force? Absolutely.
Lawson might not look the part of premier athlete on hoof, but he is one. He is the only edge rusher in 2016 that passed through Justis Mosqueda's (@Jumosq) Force Players threshold (which you can read more about here). He is as high upside of a pass rusher as you will find in the entire class, from a physical standpoint.
So, why are we so afraid to talk about how an upper echelon athlete who plays a highly valued position who was the best defender on the best defense in college football might be a top prospect?
I believe it plays into most people's second nature to simply be afraid of projecting things. It is more comfortable to bet on the "safer" pick. You don't have to worry about any unforeseen aspects in the projection when the player is cut and dry who they will always be.
This is a big reason why Joey Bosa has been propped up as an elite talent and nobody has batted an eye. With Bosa, you are definitely hitting a double. You are getting a guy on base who might score but might not. That is fine and all, hitting doubles are important. But when you are picking in the top five, you need to swing for the fences. You need a home run. You need to score. Especially when all the doubles are off the board.
I wrote here about Bosa and how he's a facilitator (doubles) or a creator (home run).
Lawson, in comparison and if developed correctly, has all the makings of a home run. He is athletic. He is productive. He was a leader for a prestigious program and an accomplished defense. He has his warts (very inconsistent explosion off the line) but at the end of the day, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
For a team like the Jaguars who have not had a high upside edge rusher in many, many years, Lawson could be an ideal pick.
Now you might be asking... "What about Dante Fowler?"
Fowler is not a good argument to use against drafting Lawson. In fact, Fowler is one of the best arguments in favor of drafting Lawson.
If more obvious needs like linebacker are no longer an option because Myles Jack is picked, then adding a pass-rushing partner for Fowler is the best move the Jaguars could hope to make in the first round. It is a huge risk to depend solely on Fowler to produce in 2016 with a lack of supporting cast around him. If Ryan Davis or Chris Smith is the defensive end across from him on every third down, there will be a lot of problems. Adding a talented defensive end to take pressure off Fowler is a smart move -- in both the short-term and the long-term.
If the Jaguars want to take an extra step and exploit Fowler's versatility in 2016 by moving him around the formation, then adding a defensive end is even bigger of a need. As of right now, Fowler can't move away from defensive end on any downs, run or pass.
But add a player who can hold the edge on run downs as well as he can rush the passer on third down? Then Fowler could have some fun.
At the end of the day, if all hell breaks loose and four players get picked ahead of the Jaguars in a four-player draft, then you could find worse fall back options than Shaq Lawson. Hell, at the end of the day, when teams before you hit solid doubles but you are standing at home plate celebrating the home run you just hit, you might even be considering yourself lucky that you were forced into a backup plan like Lawson to begin with.