Shaq Lawson’s Greatest Attribute Matches Jets’ Area of Weakness

Shaq Lawson

Getty New York Jets defensive end Shaq Lawson provides an important ability that the franchise has struggled with in 2021.

After the Carl Lawson injury and the Vinny Curry medical update, one thing was evident, the New York Jets needed to acquire another edge rusher.

Head coach Robert Saleh is famous for using a deep rotation on his defensive line, which invigorates an intense four-man pass rush. Players like John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff have shown a ton of potential but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for a Carl Lawson snap count.

Even the star edge rusher wasn’t expected to play every down, and the Jets’ pass-rushing core had become so injury-ridden that Huff and ‘JFM’ may have had to do that themselves.

The Shaq Lawson trade bolsters this unit, which only runs four-deep after Joe Douglas sent Jabari Zuniga, Ronald Blair and Hamilcar Rashed Jr. to the practice squad and Kyle Phillips to the Reserve/PUP list. On top of that, he fills a specific in-game need that the franchise struggled with during the preseason, which we’ll break down below.

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Shaq Lawson Raves About Jets, Saleh

Before we touch on that, a bit of background on the new defensive end, who sounded ecstatic to get out of Houston and join New York during his first press conference with the franchise on September 1.

“I was very happy,” he said when asked about his reaction to the trade. Lawson continued: “I know what type of coach they got up here, who they brought up here, and I think my energy matches his energy from when I’ve seen him coach the [San Francisco] 49ers defense.”

The edge rusher added that he was “excited” because playing here will allow him to be himself on the field. Lawson made his money with the Buffalo Bills after a first-round selection in 2016, but the past year and change he’s played out of position in a 3-4, rather than a 4-3.

He elaborated on why he’s so amped to join Saleh’s 4-3 system. “I could tell head coach likes dogs and I feel like I meet what he wants.” Lawson continued: “I played at Miami last year and I was a 3-4 guy, I played outside linebacker. This defense you don’t [have to] think, you can just attack and be aggressive. It takes the thinking out of football so that’s what I mean [about] being myself.”

Miami and Houston both use a 3-4, and the pass-rusher noted that Buffalo was the last time he felt comfortable like this. Lawson also told reporters he’s not nervous about having to play a game with a new organization in 11 days, stating that he’ll just use that time to study any unique intricacies in the playbook, get to know his teammates and work on his conditioning.

Finally, Shaq Lawson said he’s not worried about filling Carl Lawson’s shoes, joking that everyone thought they were cousins back in college at Clemson and Auburn. “I’m just going to give them the Shaq Lawson version,” the Jet reinforcement replied.

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Jets Desperately Needed a Man of Shaq’s Skill Set

Gang Green was steamrolled by the run during preseason, which was surprising being that they had a much better run defense than pass defense in 2020.

Now part of that was due to key absences, like Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins on the interior and even C.J. Mosley and Marcus Maye playing limited snaps at linebacker and safety. Even so, the run defense was noticeably porous this summer.

That’s where Shaq Lawson comes in. The defensive end has always been known as a plus-run defender throughout his career.

If you go back to 2017 (his second NFL campaign), here are his run defense grades on Pro Football Focus from 2017 up until 2020: 74.1, 81.1, 62.1, 66.1.

Even throughout what’s been a lackluster preseason in 2021, Lawson earned his best PFF grades against the run. The Jets youngsters have not displayed this trait.

Player 2020 Run-D Grades 2021 Preseason Run-D Grades
John Franklin-Myers 57.1 47.6
Bryce Huff 46.6 50.7
Tim Ward* 59.6 (one game) 63.6
Hamilcar Rashed Jr. N/A (rookie) 44.6
Jabari Zuniga 30.6 31.3 (one game)

*Tim Ward was recently acquired and has yet to play a game with the Jets, but is currently the fourth defensive end on the active roster.

As you can see, none of the Jets’ current edge rushers can fill the void left by Carl Lawson and Curry against the run. The specialist in this department was Blair, but he reverted to the practice squad as we mentioned above.

Just like that, the franchise’s top run defenders at the position might be Shaq Lawson and Ward, who was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs. The others all excel at rushing the quarterback, which is why I expect most of them to rotate in for passing situations when given the opportunity. Even Ward is better as a pass-rusher.

As of now, the starters will probably end up being Shaq Lawson and JFM, with Huff and Ward rotating in on later downs. Keep an eye on Ward though, the prospect has shown a ton of promise as a well-balanced defensive end with the Chiefs.

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