The 2019 NFL Draft presented a rare situation for the New York Giants. For the first time since the 1984 draft, the Giants had multiple first round picks; and just like the season that preceded the ‘84 draft, the team was struggling, had a new head coach, and a roster that was very young.
Does this sound familiar to you? Fast forward to the 2019 offseason and you’ll see a team that ostensibly seemed in dysfunction. Damon “Snacks” Harrison was traded to the Detroit Lions for a fifth-round selection, a three-time Pro-Bowl safety was allowed to walk in free agency, the team seemed obstinate about the facts of their aging quarterback, and the mega-star wide receiver was traded for Jabrill Peppers, the 17th, and the 95th selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Giants were able to snag the quarterback of the future at 6 in that draft, which left them with pick 17 (before the trade up to 30 happened). With the defensive line being a strength of the Giants, due to the presence of B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson on the roster, few expected the Giants to draft Dexter Lawrence, the 340-pound defensive lineman from Clemson. Once Lawrence’s name was announced at 17, people wanted to lambaste the selection. Some analysts and fans alike labeled Lawrence as a two-down, run stuffer, who was just a “Snacks” replacement and offered no value in third-down situations. This was a lazy generalization that was not validated on tape evaluation, rather just a negligent assumption based on the current state of the Giants roster and the monstrous size of Lawrence. What those people failed to acknowledge was Lawrence’s rare size adjusted athletic ability.
Lawrence is 98th percentile in weight, 97th in wingspan, 96th in bench press, 90th in arm length, and 88th in hand size among all defensive linemen. Obviously, one can see how he ranks amid his counterparts, but one would deduce that he’s more than likely stiff as a board, and just possesses size and strength, right? Negative, and if you watch the clip below, you’ll see how much flexibility Lawrence possesses in his lower half.
Lined up as a 3-Technique in an Under Front, Lawrence is able to burst off the line of scrimmage and win his opponent’s chest immediately, with very strong hands, while simultaneously driving him back with incredibly impressive lower body drive, strength, and determination. Look closely at how he establishes the half man relationship against his opponent, and see how he dips that inside shoulder and bends at the waist to maximize space between himself and the guard, which allows him to rip through the outside shoulder of the guard and force the hit on the quarterback. That kind of flexibility, at 340 pounds, is rare to find, and it’s something that Giants GM Dave Gettlemen values — an ability to bend and be flexible in the lower half. Below you’ll see another microcosm of why Lawrence isn’t an average “run stuffer.”
Very good End/Tackle stunt by the two rookies, Oshane Ximines & Dexter Lawrence...Timed so well and OX gets low and utilizes an arm-over to create space and disrupt the right side of the OLine, which allows DLaw to loop around untouched and flush Keenum from the pocket. pic.twitter.com/KaGAUfmmuP— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 1, 2019
This play is a well executed End/Tackle stunt, where Lawrence is the looper from the 0-Technique position. Ximinies does an excellent job timing himself to pick the guard and take the tackle inside with him, which allows Lawrence to loop around, but what’s astonishing is the foot speed and agility that allows Lawrence to loop around the tackle and into the pocket to force the flush out. Linemen who move this well at 340 pounds are not a dime a dozen; they’re incredibly valuable and keep offensive linemen guessing because they have more than just one pass rushing move. Most bigger defensive linemen can only win with a pure bull-rush, but not Lawrence. He has more in his repertoire and his athletic ability allows for him to be utilized in more unique ways than a typical big man on the line of scrimmage. Although, just in case you were wondering, he can most certainly win with the bull-rush. See below.
Another shot of Lawrence as 3-Technique where he wins the pad level battle and explodes low to high to put the guard on skates and walk him back into the pocket. The overall strength to do this in one-on-one situations is imperative to generate interior pressure, which is an invaluable way to disrupt any type of offense. Consistently winning one-on-one matchups is a key component to any successful defensive line because it forces double teams. This allows for one-on-one situations to materialize on other parts of the line, while also allowing coaches to scheme pressure from other areas of the defense, which can result in advantageous numbers for the defense. Below, you’ll see a clip of Lawrence winning without the obvious initial shock victory that you just witnessed.
Lawrence is a 1-Technique here and he takes on Ali Marpet at guard. Marpet does an excellent job establishing initial position on Lawrence; he gets his hands inside of Lawrence and stays in front of him, but Lawrence utilized an impressive snatch/arm over move that forced Marpet off balance and allowed for Lawrence to force another incompletion. Lawrence grabs the inside shoulder of Marpet and violently pulls it downward, which allows him to get hip to hip with Marpet. Once a defender acquires an offensive player’s hip, he establishes the half man relationship, and it’s much easier to defeat half a man, than a full man. So, all Lawrence has to do is use his strength to follow through with his snatch move, and then bring his outside arm overtop of Marpet to effectively create space and shed the block. Lawrence is able to do this and he fully turns Marpet around in the process. These are impressive pass rushing fundamentals that are on display from edge rushers, but not always from interior defensive linemen.
According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence’s pass rush snaps (94) outnumber his rush defense snaps (83), and he is tied with Ed Oliver for rookie pass pressures with 11 through five games. These are incredibly encouraging stats that show how precocious Lawrence is when rushing the passer, but he is not just effective against the pass; he’s also a stout run defender who can take on double teams and puts stress on offensive linemen who try to down or scoop block him. Lawrence ranks fifth among rookies in rush stop percentage, but the only players ranked higher than him have less than 15 snaps against the rush; Lawrence has 81, which is the second-highest among rookies, according to Pro Football Focus. Essentially, Lawrence gets more reps than his rookie counterparts, and he’s more effective with these reps, while also ranking first with 6 stops (which is a tackle that constitutes a failure for the offense), albeit is a smaller sample size . Below is a clip from Week 5 against the Vikings were Lawrence deals with two blockers and forces Dalvin Cook to have no room to run.
As a 1-Technique against Inside Zone, Lawrence engages the center and wins his chest quickly, while keeping his eyes in the backfield and absorbing a hit from the far side guard, which barley hindered his ability to clog his gap. Lawrence stays in that A-Gap and adjusts as Cook tries to find space, but can’t find any due to the presence of Lawrence. Holding up blockers, taking on double teams, and playing assignment sound football is one of the impetuses to success. These types of plays are very valuable on early downs because they force offenses into disadvantageous situations on later downs, which, as we’ve seen, is in Lawrence’s wheelhouse as well.
Lawrence has impacted the Giants in both phases of the defense, while showing an incredible motor by playing to the whistle and constantly chasing opponents downfield. This kind of competitive toughness sets a standard for others to emulate, and is the exact type of player Gettlemen wants in his locker room. Below, you’ll see Lawrence showing hustle that cannot be taught.
What a play call on the Vikings first offensive drive. After 2 play action boots earlier in the drive, MIN hits the Giants with a fake PA boot screen to the back side, which results in 3 blockers vs. 3 Giants with nothing but ample space and Dalvin Cook handling the ball. pic.twitter.com/4qIwaI80FB— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 8, 2019
The Vikings had an excellent opening script against the Giants; a script that featured several play action boot legs from a vaunted rushing team, which kept the Giants guessing. On the play above, the Vikings hit the Giants with a backside screen off of a play action boot, which left three Giants against four Vikings once Cook caught the ball. One of those Giants was Lawrence, and he displayed a prodigious amount of heart that all fans should applaud. With his immense size and frame, Lawrence hustled all the way downfield and was able to get in front of Cook, who was trying to elude other Giants, in order to make a tackle. Anyone who watches Giants football can see Lawrence down the field on several plays. He doesn’t give up and he’s embodying what Gettlemen wants in his players other than effectiveness - competitive toughness and football character. To call Lawrence a “two-down run stuffer” with no value in passing situations is simply a dereliction of duty.
The first round of the 1984 NFL Draft produced linebacker Carl Banks and offensive linemen William Roberts for the Giants; both were key linchpins to the organization for years to come. It’s difficult to say that the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft will bear as much fruit as those two players did for Big Blue, but time will tell. One thing is for certain, the Giants found the quarterback of their future, added a physical secondary piece in DeAndre Baker, and drafted an exceptional defensive linemen who can generate interior pressure, win one-on-one matchups, and show a level of athleticism that is atypical for a man of his size. Although the Giants are only five games into their season, I’m sure they believe they found a centerpiece to this defensive line that will flourish for years to come.