Free Agent Film Review: Defensive End Carl Lawson

The number one offseason need for the Titans is obviously pass rush help. The Titans in 2020 ranked fifth-worst in total pressures and third-worst in sacks with just 19 total sacks. On top of that, they ranked dead last in opponent third-down percentage, allowing a conversion on 51.98% of tries. That is abysmal. They need help and they need it bad.

One of the best edge rusher options expected to hit the free agent market is Carl Lawson. In my opinion, he would be the best choice for Tennessee when you factor in his age, skillset, and potential price point.

Fortunately for the Titans, the Bengals decided not to place the franchise tag on Lawson, allowing him to hit the market for the first time in his career (assuming they don’t reach a deal by March 15 at 4 p.m. ET). Lawson is definitely looking to cash in as one of the premier edge rushers available. Hopefully, it’s with the Titans.

Let’s break down his tape…

Players Name

Former Team: Cincinnati Bengals

Age: 25.6

Projected Contract: 4 years, $45M

Lawson posted a PFF pass rushing grade of 84.9 this past season, which ranked 10th among all edge defenders. He was also fourth in total pressures and second in QB hits. Although Lawson has been mostly average against the run, he wins as a pass rusher with his well-placed hand usage, burst off the edge, and powerful bull rush/long arm move. This is exactly the skillset the Titans need to compliment Harold Landry’s speed and bend.

Film study

Moving to the film, the best thing about Lawson’s game is that he can beat his man in multiple ways — keeping opposing offensive tackles guessing as to what his next move will be. He can win outside with speed and bend, he can counter back inside with a swipe or swim, or he can bully you straight up the middle with a bull rush or long-arm move.

While it’s good to have a variety of different pass rush moves, it’s more important to have effective ones, and Lawson has several.

Now, I think Lawson’s best pass rush move and his go-to is his long-arm, which is strange for a player that ranks in the 3rd percentile for arm length at just 31.5 inch arms. However, the physical length doesn’t matter for Lawson because he knows how to maximize every inch that he has. When the Bengals need some pass rush, this is the move that Lawson relies on the most.

The key to Lawson’s effectiveness on this long-arm move, despite having shorter arms, is his precise hand placement and his lateral torso lean and rotation.

Breaking down the long-arm rush

The precise hand placement on the inside shoulder is crucial because it allows him to manipulate the tackle’s center of gravity effectively.

The lateral torso lean and rotation is important because it adds length to his long-arm. To demonstrate this simply, reach your arm out 90 degrees to your side. See how far you can reach without leaning. Now, lean towards that side — obviously you’re reach extends much further. Lawson is doing the same thing. This torso lean is allowing him to gain more length on the tackle and preventing them from getting contact on his trunk.

Similar to his long-arm, Lawson has also has a powerful bull rush. He always gets great hands on the inside shoulders and churns his legs to compress the pocket. Also, he often gets a running start out in a wide alignment and is able to convert that running speed into power.

A compilation of Lawson’s bull rush.

In addition to his power, Lawson also has surprisingly good burst and decent bend to win around the corner. He is no Harold Landry in this aspect, but he has enough ankle and hip flexibility to flatten out his arc straight to the quarterback.

Carl Lawson bending the edge.

In the clips above, also notice how he utilizes his hands to gain the corner before bending to the quarterback. In the first clip, Lawson uses a very well executed cross chop; this is often utilized when opposing tackles lead with their outside hand to initiate contact. This means that Lawson was not only anticipating to neutralize the outside hand, but he was rushing the passer with a specific plan in mind. On the second clip, Lawson transitions nicely from a chop into a rip move. Excellent hand usage all around.

Now to finish it off, Lawson is also able to counter back inside to neutralize offensive lineman from setting out wide. For example, take a look at this rep against Colts’ Anthony Castonzo. Lawson had been rushing outside in the few snaps prior in order to set up this inside move. As soon as Castonzo kicks out wide off the snap, Lawson simply jabs inside and rips underneath the inside hand to pressure Phillip Rivers.

Lawson also has a pretty nasty and effective spin move to counter inside. He does a nice job of timing the spin and generating enough rotational force with his core to cover ground quickly inside. Also, notice how he simultaneous swipes away the hands with his spin.

Overall, Lawson is so difficult to defend because he has so many different ways to beat you. It’s clear from his film that he has an intentional pass rush plan and can adapt his approach based on the tendencies of his opponents.

How he fits

It’s a simple as this; the Titans need to add pass rush this offseason and Carl Lawson is the best realistic available edge rusher on the market. That’s how he fits.

This seems like the perfect fit from the Titans side because Lawson is a proven talent as a pass rusher and he is still young — about to reach his prime. From a stylistic perceptive, he complements Harold Landry’s speed and bend well with his own power and fantastic hand usage. He not only creates his own pressures, but helps take some of the pressure off of the guys around him, like Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry.

As I said at the beginning, the Titans had huge issues pressuring the quarterback, especially on third downs. Lawson would go a long way in helping fix the Titans pass rush problems. He’ll probably come cheaper than guys with more name recognition and bigger sack numbers, such as Bud Dupree and Matt Judon. I say let someone else overpay those guys; go get Carl Lawson.

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