The New York Jets have not rostered a consistent edge rusher since the days of John Abraham. Even worse, this pass rush as a whole has not been legitimately feared since Rex Ryan was head coach, and even that statement is a stretch.
This was one of the crucial areas of need that had to be corrected over the 2021 offseason, and general manager Joe Douglas did not let fans down.
All it took was $30 million guaranteed, but Douglas got his guy, and Carl Lawson became the first big-money pass rusher to sign with Gang Green in over a decade.
Top 10 NFL Pass Rusher in New York?
Although Lawson is extremely talented, he’s not exactly a household name just yet. Maybe it’s because he was playing in Cincinnati, or maybe the former Bengal just doesn’t crave the spotlight, but his game has flown under the radar since entering the league in 2017.
That will change in the Big Apple.
Outside of an injury-hampered sophomore campaign, Lawson has had five or more sacks in every season. He actually totaled his most sacks during his rookie year, with 8.5 in 2017, but his overall game has really solidified during his past two seasons.
What I mean by this is that Lawson has become a more complete player off the edge, and it really shows in his analytics. The NFL’s Next Gen Stats department just released their top 10 “disruptors” from 2020, and Lawson ranked seventh.
So if you’re more of an old-school fan, you might be thinking ‘what on earth is a disruptor and why do I care?’
A disruptor is basically any defensive player that causes havoc in the backfield. Next Gen determines this rank by combining sack rate, disruption rate and the total number of QB hurries, pressures and sacks.
A player commonly known as a great disruptor is Jadeveon Clowney because he stifles the run and keeps the quarterback off-balance most snaps. Clowney didn’t make this list in 2020, but Lawson did.
This honor may not always show up on the stat sheet, but it’s incredibly essential in the modern-day NFL. Just look at Patrick Mahomes in last year’s Super Bowl. He was only sacked three times, but he was hit eight times and pressured 29 times (a Super Bowl record). We all know how that game ended.
Even though Lawson only had 5.5 sacks in 2020, he had a career-high 36 combined tackles and 32 quarterback hits. Next Gen also noted that Lawson ranked seventh in “sacks created” last year with 10.5, another analytical winner.
Where Does Lawson Fit in Robert Saleh’s Defense?
Being that Lawson only turns 26 later this month, the theory is that he has a ton of untapped potential. The GM rationale behind this is that you sign a player before they break out, not after.
I expect Lawson to be the starting LEO in this defense, simply based on his attributes as a player. The LEO is the most athletic defensive end in Saleh’s scheme, and his job responsibilities require both skill and intelligence. Not only does this position provide pressure as an impact pass rusher, but it also contains the run and has the quickness to clog gaps or close off the edge if needed.
Lawson may have a little help in learning this role, as the Jets just signed Ronald Blair, who acted as a spell-LEO with the San Francisco 49ers.
Wherever the big-money acquisition lines up, Jets fans just can’t wait to see him in action. It’s been a long time since this franchise has had a defensive line filled with studs at every position, whether you’re talking Quinnen Williams or John Franklin-Myers, Foley Fatukasi or Sheldon Rankins, Lawson or Vinny Curry, this unit is stacked.
Having Saleh at the helm just puts it over the top. Lawson said it best when asked about the head coach in his press conference: “When you got a guy who’s that passionate about [football], it makes you want to come in here and work each and every day… it makes you want to build a culture.”