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Injury analysis: Buffalo Bills DE Shaq Lawson

Can Lawson stay healthy and provide effective depth?

Baltimore Ravens v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Buffalo is apparently the place to be for 2022 as former first-round draft pick DE Shaq Lawson returns home on a one-year deal, officially signing Friday afternoon. After five years with the Buffalo Bills that culminated in a career year with 6.5 sacks, Lawson cashed in with the Miami Dolphins on a free agency deal that was simply too rich for Buffalo to match.

After one season in Miami, he continued to bounce around the AFC as he was dealt to the Houston Texans, which then flipped him to the New York Jets. Injuries have limited Lawson’s abilities throughout his career and is very likely why he is coming back to Buffalo in order to revive his career. Below is Shaq Lawson’s publicly reported injury history.

Injury History

2016 Buffalo Bills

Missed six games. During OTAs in May, Lawson injured his right shoulder resulting in an aggravation of a previously torn labrum. He had originally suffered the injury back in college at Clemson in 2013. It’s worth noting that the injury was noted as a potential issue during the NFL Combine.

He required surgery to fix the issue and was placed on the PUP list to begin his rookie season. He was activated in Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins and played the remainder of the season without injury.

Following the season, he required arthroscopic knee surgery to possibly clean up any damage sustained from the season. My records and searching don’t reveal what exactly was needed or which side, but certainly worth noting.

2017 Bills

Missed six games: five regular season, one postseason. Lawson suffered a peroneal nerve contusion in his lower leg, officially designated as a foot on the injury report, in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers but did not miss the following week. However, in practice prior to Week 4, he sustained a groin strain that forced him out of the game against the Denver Broncos.

Regrettably, Lawson dealt with a right high ankle sprain as the result of New England Patriots OL Nate Solder falling on the back of his leg, twisting the leg outward. He was placed on injured reserve, missing the four remaining regular-season games along with the playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2018 Bills

Missed two games. Lawson suffered a right hamstring injury while trying to chase down Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco early in the fourth quarter. He had slipped in the backfield and upon getting up, appeared to injure the hamstring, causing him to miss Weeks 2 and 3.

He also suffered an elbow injury in practice, side not specified, prior to the Week 11 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, leaving him with a questionable designation, though he ultimately played. If you recall, that was the game that he fought Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette, indicating that the elbow injury wasn’t all that serious.

2019 Bills

Missed one game. He suffered a late-season left hamstring in the fourth quarter following a tackle for loss in the backfield against the New England Patriots in Week 16.

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The tackle itself did not appear to cause the injury, it was likely the celebration following that unfortunately knocked him out of the season finale against the New York Jets. He was ultimately questionable for the playoff loss against the Houston Texans.

2020 Miami Dolphins

Missed two games. Following the 2019 season, Lawson cashed in on his 6.5 sack season with a three-year, $30 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. He later dealt with a pair of shoulder injuries during the season that cost him a total of two games.

The first instance was in Week 4 when he sacked Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, landing hard on his left shoulder in the third quarter. He left the game for further evaluation but later returned before missing the following Week 5 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

The other instance was prior to the Week 15 matchup against the Patriots. He suffered the shoulder injury, side not specified, during that game, missing the Week 16 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders. He was able to return despite being questionable in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills.

2021 Houston Texans/New York Jets

Missed two games. In the offseason, Miami dealt Lawson and a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for Benardrick McKinney and a 2021 seventh-round pick. Before playing a snap, the Texans then traded Lawson to the New York Jets for a 2022 sixth-round pick late in training camp.

During his time with the Jets, Lawson dealt with hamstring and wrist injuries at various points throughout the season. He was questionable prior to Week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals with the wrist, side not specified, and again in Week 12 against the Texans.

He was cleared to play prior to Week 10 against the Bills with a hamstring injury, side not specified despite a questionable designation. The only games he missed were when he was ruled inactive for Week 15 against the Dolphins and then waived prior to the season finale against the Bills.

Buffalo Bills Impact

Shaq Lawson is a former first-round pick who hasn’t been able to deliver first-round talent at any of his NFL stops. Hamstring and shoulder injuries have been the primary limitations, causing him to miss a total of 11 games over his career. While a bulk of those missed games were due to the shoulder surgery his rookie year, his inability to avoid the injury report stunted any consistency in production.

There is an obvious concern for another hamstring strain considering Lawson’s history. Considering the depth at the defensive end position, I do question how much playing time he will even get, which could limit his risk for reinjury. He could be an effective reserve player, rotating throughout the game to keep starters fresh or used in certain defensive packages.

Looking at the roster right now above, Lawson appears to be on the replacement-level tier of players. He has a strong chance to make the roster, but unless some of the recent draft picks at the position struggle, I don’t see how he gets onto the field often.

I’m glad that Buffalo has become a destination for players to come to win a championship—it’s a strange feeling. But I’m rather indifferent to the signing. He knows the system, can bring a positive spark to the locker room but has had trouble staying healthy. A reserve role as a fourth or five defensive end may be best suited for a player of Lawson’s caliber in case of injury late in a game to secure a win.