NAME: Dexter Lawrence
POSITION: Defensive Tackle
JERSEY: No. 90
RECRUITMENT RATING: 5-star
WT: 340 lbs
Competitive Toughness – True nose tackle in every sense of the position: stocks up gaps and occupies space, allowing his linemates and LBs to flow freely. Motor has a little extra juice and shows great pursuit skills in the run game, won’t be ran away from without a fight and good flow.
Two Gap Ability –Anchor, extension skills, short area agility all allow for prominent role and dominating influence in the middle of the field. Lateral range allows him to be more of a scrape influence and carry out his role beyond a short area vicinity, can be found stacking outside the hashes.
Gap Penetration Skills –Has marginal ability to get hip to hip. Functional strength allows him to power through a crease but his contact balance can carry him too far out of his gap, loses leverage when he isn’t tasked with playing the point of attack and tries to press for the mesh point.
Tackling –Black hole tackler in the middle. Has more mobility than you’d expect and does well to scrape, flow and swallow up ball carriers. Powerful grip to envelope and wrap up the football.
Flexibility –Doesn’t show overly effective tilt or lean in rush opportunities. Effective anchor and hip drop to reset himself and hold ground in point of attack reps. Love his dynamic base, capable of playing with his feet extended from under the hips and gathering his footing.
Pass Rush Counters –Modest ability to impact in the pass. Size and wingspan can be effective in occupying passing lanes. Most effective is a bull rush to push the pocket and get bodies into the lap of the opposing quarterback. Other rushes are elementary and can be won with powerful upper half.
First Step Quickness –Initial quickness gets a chance to thrive on obvious passing situations. Wasn’t afforded a ton of 3rd down rush reps but in early down rushes he does have enough spring to put blockers on their heels fairly quickly. Burst is more notable thanks to his size vs. actual explosiveness.
Feet/Change Of Direction –Lateral mobility is effective when looking to slide up and down the LOS. Effectiveness runs dry when he’s hoping to collect himself and pivot back the other way. Is well built but can be top heavy in the open field, too prone to letting his momentum build as he presses for range.
Versatility –Has enough mobility to be featured in either an odd or even front. His featured role in the NFL is to be a primary run defender but has enough juice in the pass game to warrant 60%+ of his team’s defensive snaps. A-gap alignments are most preferred.
BEST TRAIT – Two Gap Ability
WORST TRAIT – Pass Rush Counters
BEST FILM – North Carolina State (2018)
WORST FILM – Alabama (2017)
RED FLAGS – None
Dexter Lawrence is an obvious fit as a true nose tackle in the NFL. His value as a run defender is tremendous and should lend itself very well to an immediate role in the NFL. That said, his ceiling will be capped by modest pass rushing skills. Look for Lawrence to be a fixture on passing downs and still generate a fair amount of rush production with his size/strength and ability to push the pocket and collapse as a bull rusher. Day one starter.
Get-off/Burst – Would not describe him as explosive or twitched-up, but has good reaction timing to come to life as the ball is snapped. Fires out into the opposing center before he can build his house. First step is a lot better than his 2nd/3rd/4th steps. Doesn’t gain a lot of ground into the backfield and doesn’t project to a penetrating style of play.
Leverage – Really impressive knee bend and ability to play leveraged for a bigger defensive tackle. Power is maximized due to pad level. Can overwhelm opponents with raw strength and ability to consistently play lower than his opponent.
Hand Usage – Fires hands to opponent’s chest to win initial contact on most reps against base blocks. Good arm extension to keep frame clean. Not going to be driven off-the-ball 1v1. Will get over-extended at times and pulled forward off balance. Needs to be more violent to harass blocker when he wins with his hands early, will lose advantage to late hand counters from his opponent at times. When his hands are right, has some ridiculous wins that show unstoppable physical tools.
Rush Plan/Counters – Simplistic pass rusher who opts for a bull rush at almost every turn, but doesn’t have the consistent burst to make it a deadly strategy. Has managed just 3.5 sacks over the last two years (24 games) at Clemson, which the tape shows is indicative of his lack of impact in this area. Has the tools to be worth a little more as a pass rusher than most nose tackles, flashing a chop-swim and snatch-rip 1-2 times in the five games I studied in 2018 (didn’t show much in 2017).
Mental Processing/Block Recognition – Can stand to improve his recognition of zone schemes to keep from being reached. Won’t be able to backdoor wide zone in the NFL and make plays. Does a terrific job identifying when his guard is pulling so he can attack the back-blocking center. Keeps his depth to the LOS and won’t get too deep. Disciplined defender, but needs to be more aware of down blocks that knock him off-balance momentarily.
Range – Good movement skills in space for his size, even dropping into coverage at times. Biggest issue is that he doesn’t really play as a gap penetrator, which inhibits how often he made plays in space or behind the line of scrimmage. Timed 40 will be good for his size, but doesn’t really indicate the fact he doesn’t show great range on a regular basis on tape.
Bend/Flexibility – Needs to work to the edge of blockers more often as a pass rusher to get a better feel for his traits in this area. Plays with good lower half bend at the point-of-attack, and movement skills suggest he’ll at least test adequately in the 3-cone.
Tackling – One of the bigger hitters at nose tackle that you will see. Good length allows him to rip runners down outside his frame. Makes more plays in space than you’d expect given his size. Has leveled a few quarterbacks in his time.
Competitive Toughness – Physical and hard-working in the trenches. Knows he has rare power and relishes the 1v1 exchanges. Did not notice any loafing or taking plays off. Played through a bad foot in 2017 which limited him significantly.
Athleticism/Size – Elite size and length for the position, with NFL-ready muscle distribution and a strong physique. I don’t think he’ll be 340, but carries it unbelievably well if he is. Extremely nimble in space and a fluid mover, should test really well in Indy.
BEST TRAIT – Power
WORST TRAIT – Pass Rush
RED FLAGS – Was suspended for the College Football Playoff by the NCAA for failing a test for an obscure performance-enhancing substance. Almost certainly the NCAA being their typical awful ‘selves and not a legitimate issue with Lawrence that will impact him at the next level.
One of the top high school recruits in the country, Dexter Lawrence burst onto the scene at Clemson as a true freshman, starting 11 games and recording seven sacks. That was as statistically dominant as we would ever see him however, as Lawrence failed to show a ton of improvement over the next two seasons as a Tiger.
Physically, Lawrence’s gifts are significant and he will be a solid run-stuffing presence for an NFL team’s rotation at the very least. But for a player who has been billed for years as a top ten selection, shouldn’t the expectations be higher? Lawrence is a good athlete for his size, but I struggle to see an impactful every down defender, and he doesn’t play with the explosiveness to make a big impact behind the line of scrimmage. Everyone would love to have Lawrence on their team, but if the asking price is a top 40 pick, I’ll pass.
Run Defense – Has considerable upside as a run defender and clearly understands his role. Does well to anchor and occupy blocks to keep the second level clean. Not a dynamic gap penetrator but is difficult to move and has the ability to re-set the line of scrimmage. Is a load to move. Holds up fairly well against double teams. Squeezes run lanes, has a good feel for play design and finds the ball.
Pass Rush – Lacks the juice and twitch needed to attack gaps and consistently generate pressure. Features a powerful bull rush and easily walks back interior offensive lineman while compromising the depth of the pocket. His plan is to collapse the pocket, get on the same level as the quarterback and disengage. I think he can develop but dropping weight to become quicker and learning the nuances of rushing the passer all needs to happen.
Effort – Plays with a motor that always runs hot. Clemson’s defense plays with consistent energy and urgency and Lawrence is no exception. Dominates on “gotta have it” downs. Chases down plays into the boundary and works hard in pursuit.
Hand Technique – Leads and initiates contact with his hands but doesn’t consistently keep his pads clear throughout the rep and blockers can eventually work into his frame. Does well to get his arms extended to control at the point of attack. Needs to develop more counters to take advantage of situations where he generates a strong initial jolt with his punch.
Flexibility – Generally plays with good leverage and bend. Not a threat to work to the edges of blocks and bend a tight angle to corner. Has to play through blocks and rely on his strength on account his modest ability to tilt and lean.
Play Strength – Blend of mass, power, leverage and aggressive hands leads to dominant moments of destroying blockers at the point of attack. Won’t get moved 1v1 and holds up well against double teams. Converts speed to power well and has the ability to collapse the pocket on passing downs.
Play Speed – Moves well relative to his size but lacks quickness and twitch overall. Winning with power is his game although he definitely doesn’t labor to move. Plays fast with quick processing skills to find the ball and pursue. Not going to put too much stress on interior offensive lineman to slide their feet and mirror. Plays hard and aggressively.
Lateral Movement – Can spring quickly to ball carriers trying to get by him but completely turning and changing directions reveals tightness but that doesn’t stop him from working hard down the line of scrimmage on stretch runs. Range is better than expected for his size.
Versatility – Can serve as a plug in a 4-3 alignment or 3-4 nose tackle. His pass rushing upside is only modest but he should be a standout run defender. Can defend multiple gaps.
BEST TRAIT – Run Defense
WORST TRAIT – Counters
RED FLAGS – Was suspended for the College Football Playoff by the NCAA for failing a test for an obscure performance-enhancing substance.
Lawrence’s play strength, size and processing skills make him an ideal fit as a 4-3 shade or nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment. While he plays with a hot motor and outstanding effort throughout each rep, Lawrence doesn’t have the juice, flexibility or hand technique to be a consistent pass rusher in the NFL. He is capable of pushing the pocket and does well to get his hands in throwing lanes. Lawrence should be an early starter, providing strong contributions on early downs and a consistent winner at the point of attack. He can help a defense become more stout.