The is the central question about Lawrence entering the 2022 season. Let’s discuss as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.
By the numbers
Position: Defensive tackle
Contract: Final year of four-year, $13.248 million rookie deal | 2022 cap hit: $4.215 million
Career to date
The Giants took Lawrence as the second of their three 2019 first-round picks. They missed by one pick an opportunity to select edge defender Brian Burns, who went 16th to the Carolina Panthers. They chose Lawrence rather than edge Montez Sweat (26th, Washington) or perhaps addressing the offensive line.
Lawrence has been durable and productive, but not dominant, during his three seasons. He did make the All-Rookie Team in 2019.
Lawrence had 38 tackles as a rookie, 53 in 2020 and 54 last season. He has 14 overall tackles for loss in three seasons.
Per Pro Football Focus, Lawrence’s run defense has actually declined season over season. He graded at a solid 76.4 as a rookie, 73.1 in his second season and fell off to a mediocre 56.9 last season. That 56.9 grade put him 33rd out of 66 qualifying defensive tackles, smack in the middle of the pack. Lawrence had been a top 20 run defender his first two seasons.
Perhaps the loss of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency and linebacker Blake Martinez to injury impacted Lawrence’s run defense, though that is only a speculative statement.
Lawrence has never been a dominant pass rusher, at least in terms of sack production and quarterback hits. He has 9.0 sacks over three seasons, with a high of 4.0 in 2020. His 11 quarterback hits in 2021 were a career best.
Lawrence, though, has improved incrementally as a pass rusher. His 43 total pressures (sacks/hits/hurries combined) were 13 more than his 2019 high of 30. In 2021, Lawrence had a pass rush win percentage of 13.4, 13th of 37 qualifiers. In 2020, his pass rush win percentage was 12 percent, and as a rookie it was 9.6 percent.
How much better can Lawrence, who won’t turn 25 until November, get?
“A lot,” according to defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
“He can grow a lot. He can elevate his his game, there’s no question about that,” Patterson said. ““In this game you never get to the point where you say this is where I’m tapped out, unless you have told yourself this is where I tapped out. You can still reach for more.”
Patterson, 62, is new to the Giants. He has been in coaching since 1982, however, and is one of the league’s most respected and successful defensive line coaches.
With the Minnesota Vikings from 2014-2021, Patterson helped players like John Randle, Chris Doleman and Danielle Hunter be dominant players. He was also in Minnesota when former Giant Linval Joseph arrived there as a free agent and had his best seasons.
Back in February, former Vikings assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez told Big Blue View that Patterson was “the best I’ve ever been around” as a defensive line coach.
“Andre’s technique, whoever you are it makes you better. If you’re average it helps you be good, if you’re good it helps you be great, if you’re great it helps you be the best. He’s going to empower them with knowledge and he’s going to make sure that they’re always in advantageous positions with their hands and their feet, and then he’s going to help them learn how to use their hands. Their hand work is going to go through the roof.”
Rodriguez’ advice to Lawrence? Forget your pre-conceived notions of defensive line play. Listen, learn, get better.
“If I was near him [Lawrence] I would advise him, dude, shut out everything you know, just listen, commit and give it a shot. It’s going to be hard at first but you’re going to be playing better than you’ve ever played in your life, and it’ll be empowering for you because you’re going to know why,” Rodriguez said.
Lawrence said this spring that Patterson has him focused on “little things” like “learning how to manipulate slides and offensive linemen’s shoulders, using my hands and length more. You know, rushing, keeping my eyes on my rush man. Little things like that that a defensive lineman has to know.”
One of the main criticisms it is fair to make of the Giants in recent years is that not enough of their highly-drafted players have become true difference-makers. It is probably fair to put Lawrence in that category — good, but not good enough so far to justify where he was picked or some of the players the Giants passed over to select him.
Maybe 2022 is the year that perception changes for the big defensive tackle.