The Miami Dolphins agreed to terms Wednesday with defensive lineman Shaq Lawson. The former Buffalo Bill stays in the division, reuniting with his collegiate position coach, Marion Hobby.
Lawson is very physically imposing and satisfies both requirements of a three-down edge. At 6-3, 267 pounds, Lawson can dent the line in the run game with relative ease. His 32 ¼-inch arms allow him to reset his opponent, key the play and disengage in either gap to close down on the ball carrier or pursue the quarterback – the key to two-gapping as a read-and-react player.
Once his run defense forces the offense into obvious passing downs, Lawson can impact the game as a rusher from a variety of positions. In even fronts, Lawson can play anywhere from the Wide 9 technique all the way inside as a 3-technique.
Lawson's versatility satisfies Miami's multiple defense. His primary position in college was as a 5-technique, but he also played some outside linebacker in odd fronts. In Buffalo, he played all over the Bills front, but primarily in three similar positions (5, 6, and 7 techniques).
Lawson's rare blend of size and athleticism was on display at the 2016 Scouting Combine. Lawson set the pace for ends with a 4.70 40-yard dash and with a 4.21 20-yard shuttle. He ran a 7.16 three-cone drill and jumped 120 inches in the broad, and 33 inches in the vertical.
Those measurements brought back a relative athletic score of 8.39 (out of 10) and measured well-above average among his contemporaries in nearly every trait.
As a pro, Lawson has played 1,633 snaps over his four-year career – an average of 408.3 snaps per game. The 2019 season was Lawson's best, to date.
With 40 pressures on 298 pass rush reps, Lawson applied pressure on 13.4 percent of his rushing downs. His seven sacks equate to a 2.3 percent sack rate, and the 21 total quarterback hits makes for an impressive 7.0 percent hit rate.
Lawson consistently gave the Bills production last season. He recorded a pressure in 16 of Buffalo's 17 games (including playoffs). From Weeks 11-17, Lawson had 22 total pressures – 3.67 pressures per game. He committed only three fouls on the season and has drawn the yellow flag just eight times in his four-year career.
Lawson has been a solid run defender since he entered the league. His 24 run stops (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage) and 8.4 run-stop-percentage ranked seventh in the NFL last season. He was second among defensive ends with 10 tackles for loss.
Here is NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein’s 2016 scouting report of Lawson coming out of college:
"Built like a tank with thickly-muscled legs and a broad chest. Played as a 5-technique at Clemson and standing up on the outside. Scheme versatility will likely appeal to both 3-4 and 4-3 teams. Very powerful at the point. Able to punch, extend arms and control the line of scrimmage (2-gap) or set a hard edge. Able to shock and shed blockers and has the hand quickness to staggered block attempts. Power allows him to play the other side of the line. Was second in 2017 in college football in run stuffs for defensive ends. Comes off the ball low and with forward lean into his rush. Has frame to handle a double team. Has plus instincts and feel for the game. Toughness in full display. Built like a full-grown man and combines his instincts, toughness and power to fill up a state sheet and set an early tone. Lawson's frame and game are easily translatable to the NFL."
Turning 26 years of age in June, Lawson enters the prime of his career with the correct mindset, according to his former teammate Jerry Hughes.
"You see him taking the necessary steps coming in throughout the week, getting into the hot tub and cold tub just to kind of contrast, to kind of take care of his body," Hughes said. "He's coming in on Tuesdays, watching film with us, trying to really understand how teams plan on attacking us so he can go out there and play fast and just be ahead of the curve."
Nobody is happier about Lawson's migration south from Buffalo than Dolphins Defensive Line Coach Marion Hobby.
"He loves the game," Hobby said of the pass rusher heading into Lawson's sophomore season at Clemson. "He loves football. I think those [upper-classmen] know that their biggest job is, you better be keeping Shaq Lawson off the football field. I'm not going to keep him off the field, you're going to have to keep him off the field [with your play]. He's been working again this summer. He did a great job in the classroom as a freshman."
Finding an impact player at a premium position serves as a major boon for the Dolphins, especially one that fits Miami's multiple system. Lawson's 6.5 sacks – seven total plays – in 2019 came from every which way imaginable.
- Sack No. 1, Week 1 at NY Jets: Lawson lines up as the 6-technique. The Jets keep max protection (seven blockers) with a tight end to the same side as Lawson. He stays in contain for a potential play-side run, then works over the tight end forcing the quarterback to vacate. Once outside the pocket, Lawson chases the play down for the sack.
- Sack No. 2, Week 8 vs. Philadelphia: Lawson lines up in a Wide 9 technique. He uses the spacing (tight to the strong side) to throw a bull rush at the Eagles left tackle. Lawson converts speed to power with a rush that knocks the tackle five yards back into the Eagle quarterback for a sack.
- Sack No. 3, Week 11 at Miami: Lawson lines up as the 5-technique. He slants inside and wins across the face of the tackle for a solo sack.
- Sack No. 4, Week 12 vs. Denver: Lawson lines up as the 9-technique. The Broncos quarterback rolls right as Lawson is left unblocked. He chases the play down and makes the sack.
- Sack No. 5, Week vs. 12 Denver: Lawson lines up as the 4-technique. He slants inside splitting the guard and center, getting to the Denver quarterback in short order. The guard is overwhelmed by Lawson's length and get-off as he easily sheds a one-armed attempt to keep the pass rush at bay.
- Sack No. 6, Week 13 at Dallas: Lawson lines up in a Wide 5 technique. Initially he sets the edge against play-action off tackle. Lawson swipes the tackle's initial punch, keeping his frame clean, then pushes up field. The tackle oversets to react to the speed, so Lawson dips underneath and discards the tackle with an inside-hand rip, getting to the Cowboys quarterback for a half of a sack.
- Sack No. 7, Week 15 at Pittsburgh: Lawson lines up in a Wide 9 technique. He works up-field around a chip from the tight end, keeps his eyes on the quarterback and crosses the tackle's face when the quarterback steps up. Lawson arrives and strips the ball from the Steelers quarterback.