The Buffalo Bills’ switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense under Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier hasn’t left too many players out in the cold. In fact, there are a few who should be able to excel when they return to their natural positions, including a guy the Bills picked in the first round only one year ago.
Name: Shaq Lawson
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 267 lbs.
Draft: Round 1, Pick 19 by the Buffalo Bills (2016)
Financial Situation (per Spotrac): Lawson is in year two of his rookie contract, which carries a cap hit of just over $2.3 million. The decision on whether to pick up his fifth-year option (valued over $10.2 million) doesn’t come until the spring of 2019.
2016 Recap: After offseason shoulder surgery, Lawson missed the first six games of last season. He played in the remaining 10, starting one, and while he had moments of promise it was a generally underwhelming campaign. In all, Lawson recorded 13 tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble.
Positional Outlook: In a better situation, there would be someone on the depth chart to at least have a chance to challenge Lawson for a starting spot opposite Jerry Hughes. Veteran free agent Ryan Davis is the top reserve on the end, and while he should be a dependable reserve he won’t be overtaking Lawson for a starting role anytime soon.
2017 Offseason: In the midst of a return to his natural position of defensive end after spending most of last year as a pass-rushing linebacker, Lawson has been impressive through the first few days of training camp.
2017 Season Outlook: Barring injury, Lawson is going to be a primary starter at defensive end alongside Jerry Hughes. At this point, it looks like the 23-year-old can at least begin to deliver on the promise that the old regime saw in him (even if they were misusing him). Double-digit sacks might be a lofty expectation, but the 5-9 range shouldn’t be out of reach.