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2020 NFL Draft: Adding a pass rusher should be a priority

If Shaq Lawson leaves for greener pastures, here are some draft options at defensive end. (And even if he doesn’t...)

Selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft by former Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley, Shaq Lawson famously saw his first two seasons cut short due to injury. Returning to full health in 2018, Lawson saw success in a part-time role with Trent Murphy that continued into this past season. Lawson has been a titular example of why you don’t automatically give up on draft picks after a year or two of poor performance. However, despite his improvements, Lawson has never finished with more than 6.5 sacks in a season and has also never fully held down a starting role in his career. That may cause the team that drafted him to think that they can move past Lawson and believe they can get similar or better production from a rookie.

Even if the Bills keep Lawson, Buffalo could be in the market for a pass rusher to replace Trent Murphy or eventually Jerry Hughes.

Below are some options in the draft who may be able to offer just that.

Tier I

Chase Young (Ohio State)
A.J. Epenesa (Iowa)
Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State)
Terrell Lewis (Alabama)

Young is far and away the best pass rusher in the draft. He may be the best college pass rusher since Myles Garrett. A.J. Epenesa offers great size and is probably the most complete defensive end in the draft. He also finished his season on a seven-sack stretch through the final four games. An interesting case, Gross-Matos has ideal length, size and looks amazingly athletic on tape but just doesn’t show it on the field all the time. Expect him to blow up the combine. Another player who should do well in Indianapolis is Lewis, who missed 2018 with an ACL injury and didn’t look fully right in 2019. He has the look of a Senior Bowl and Combine riser.

Tier II

K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU)
Darrell Taylor (Tennessee)
Zack Baun (Wisconsin)
Marlon Davidson (Auburn)

Chaisson has had bad luck from injury but has a lightning burst off the edge. It’s questionable though if he might just look good in shorts, as he hasn’t made much of an impact on the field. Another injury risk, Taylor is nonetheless quick out of his stance and looks like he can bend the edge pretty well. Baun has 3-4 outside linebacker size, and is light, but he’s a tough SOB who looks good on stunts and games up front. Despite being almost 280 lbs, Davidson moves and bends like a player 20 lbs lighter. His long arms also help him keep offensive tackles off his chest.

Tier III

Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)
Curtis Weaver (Boise State)
Bradlee Anae (Utah)
Jabari Zuniga (Florida)

A disappointing year for the senior, Okwara only really had one good game during the season—against Virginia. Weaver is a nice story and has a good get-off, but his short, stocky body has evaluators doubting he can set the edge against the run. Productive in the PAC-12, Anae may not have the get-off and athleticism to handle a step up in competition. We’ll see if he can play at the Senior Bowl. Zuniga fought through injuries all season, so we never really saw what he could do, but at least has potential as a defensive edge-setter against the run.

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