The Buffalo Bills only had one first-round pick during the Rex Ryan era, and it was, of course, spent on a defensive player. Clemson edge defender Shaq Lawson was the pick, and he has started 11 of the 21 games in which he’s played since the Bills took him 19th overall in 2016.
If you’re noticing that the Bills have played more than 21 games since Lawson’s career began, then you’re also noticing one of the major factors that have limited Lawson’s growth since becoming a pro. In our latest installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we look at a defensive end who needs to break out in a big way during his third NFL season.
Name: Shaq Lawson
Height/Weight: 6’3” 267 lbs.
Draft: Drafted in the first round (19th overall) by the Buffalo Bills in the 2016 NFL Draft
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Lawson enters the third year of his four-year rookie pact, and he is slated to carry a cap hit of $2,803,356 this season.
2017 Recap: Lawson improved in his second season, as he benefited from a switch to Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s 4-3 defense. This was more similar to what he ran in college and was a better fit for him than Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 front that Buffalo ran the year prior. In 11 games, 10 starts, Lawson had 33 tackles and 4 sacks. He tied for the team lead in sacks with Jerry Hughes, and many outlets noted his marked improvement against the run as a second-year player. Unfortunately, he ended the year on injured reserve after hurting his ankle in Buffalo’s matchup against the New England Patriots on December 3.
Positional outlook: The Bills have two players who, if healthy, will almost certainly start in Hughes and free agent acquisition Trent Murphy. Lawson and fellow returning player Eddie Yarbrough will most likely make up the second wave of edge rushers to enter the game, with Terrance Fede, Owa Odighizuwa, Marquevious Lewis, Mike Love, and Mat Boesen serving as the other ends on the current roster.
2018 Offseason: Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier talked up Lawson’s attitude and work ethic so far in OTAs, noting that he seems to have an entirely different approach this year. He also said that Lawson has come into camp in great shape.
2018 season outlook: Barring a trade, it’s hard to see Lawson not making the roster this season. The Bills won’t flat-out cut him, but if they can move him for a draft pick, I could see it happening if they feel that one of the other players (Odighizuwa or Fede, for example) can adequately fill the reserve role Lawson is slated to fill. It’s also possible that Lawson starts some games if Murphy is unable to go early in the year due to his rehabilitation of his ACL and MCL injury suffered last preseason. In any case, this is a huge year for Lawson to show that his checkered injury history is behind him and his best football is on the horizon.