Dexter Lawrence was an impressive rookie for the Giants in 2019, earning a place on the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) All-Rookie Team.
Can Lawrence do in 2020 what those second-year players couldn’t in 2019, and take a step forward to becoming one of the game’s dominant players at his defensive tackle position?
Let’s take a closer look.
Position: Defensive tackle
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $13.248 million rookie contract | Fifth-year option available | UFA: 2024
How he got here
After passing on Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen to select quarterback Daniel Jones No. 6 overall, many Giants fans were hoping the team would select an edge rusher like Montez Sweat (who went 26th to Washington) at No. 17.
Instead, GM Dave Gettleman’s love for big men led him to select the mammoth 6-foot-4, 342-pound Clemson interior lineman. The pick drew a mixed reaction from the fan base.
Gettleman, for his part, was doing his version of a happy dance when he was able to land Lawrence, saying “We got me a hog mollie!”
“He’s a quality run player and he’s more than just a two-down run player. This kid can push the pocket and he can have an impact on the pass rush. That’s why we took him at 17 and we are thrilled ...
“Here’s what I want you to understand. This is where numbers don’t tell all the story. Defensive tackles can affect the pass rush if they get consistent inside push. How many times have you guys watched a game, and the ends come screaming off the corner, and the quarterback steps up, and there’s nobody there. You get inside pass rush, those ends come screaming off the corner, they’re going to affect it, and if the guy is getting push, the quarterback is going to step up and Dexter will give him a kiss.”
Nothing Lawrence did in 2019 made Gettleman look wrong for selecting him. Her eis what I wrote about Lawrence in our end-of-season defensive line position review:
“Dexter Lawrence — When the Giants made the 6-foot-4, 342-pound Lawrence the 17th pick in the draft they did so believed he was far more than a monstrous run-stuffing nose tackle. He showed throughout 2019 that the Giants were right, and he was named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team and named by PFF as one of the league’s top 10 rookies.
“Lawrence is still developing as a pass rusher, but had 2.5 sacks, a pass rush productivity score of 4.3 percent (31st of 45 qualifying interior defensive linemen per PFF) and 30 total pressures. As a run defender, he finished second among Giants defensive linemen with 21 run stops and had a run stop percentage of 7.4.
“Lawrence showed flexibility by playing all across the line in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. His snaps were split as follows: Left tackle (285), right tackle (145), nose tackle (189), left end (44), right end (28), LEO (9). That is something Graham will want to take advantage of.”
There is really only one question with Lawrence, which is how good of a pass rusher will he develop into?
Reality is, no team should ever be looking at a 342-pound interior and expecting dominant pass-rush performance that leads to 10-sack type seasons. Still, Lawrence has the power and athleticism to both push the pocket and finish plays more often, something he could be in position to do more often going forward as he develops his pass-rush moves and gains comfort in the new defensive scheme.
Lawrence is already a good, maybe really good, NFL defensive tackle. If he can take steps in 2020 toward becoming a plus pass rusher he could be on his way to being a great one.