Can Dexter Lawrence be more than a two-down run stuffer?
The New York Giants have a “type” when it comes to defensive tackles. After selecting Dexter Lawrence 17th in the 2019 NFL Draft overall there can’t be any dispute that the Giants have a very specific player prototype and set of traits in mind when it comes to the defensive tackle position.
Those traits are: Big, strong, and having deceptive agility.
Over the last three years the Giants have selected Lawrence, B.J. Hill, and Dalvin Tomlinson, and each of those players shares traits with former Giants Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins. In fact, both Lawrence and Hill were directly compared to Joseph by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his scouting report for each player.
Each is certifiably big, massively powerful, and has surprising movement skills for a player who typically profiles as a two-down, run-stuffing nose tackle.
The Giants rarely get much pass rush production from their defensive tackles, with Johnathan Hankins 2014 campaign being the most notable exception. That year, Big Hank notched 7 sacks and 21 QB hurries, which landed him solidly as a Top 10 interior pass rusher.
But while the Giants haven’t gotten much pass rush production from their preferred brand of defensive tackle, they have still gotten good play for affordable prices, and their archetype has held them in good stead. With that in mind, that the Giants targeted Dexter Lawrence — the 6-foot-4, 342-pound, bench press champion (leading all front seven prospects with 36 reps) — should come as absolutely no surprise.
So what are they getting with Dexter Lawrence?
Power. Power In spades.
If there is one thing Lawrence brings to the party, it is power — Work divided by time, POWER.
Lawrence isn’t just strong, but he is able to unleash that strength quickly and move offensive linemen who are not ready for it.
This play perfectly illustrates that trait.
This is football the way Dave Gettleman wants to see it played. The offense running the ball from the 1-yard line while the defense lines up a 9-man box to stop them — though the jet motion to pull the ninth man out of the box is probably an unwelcome addition.
Syracuse calls a quarterback run to the left side from an unbalanced line (lining an extra offensive tackle up to the left side). They’re counting on their down blocks to wash the Clemson defense out while the right guard pulls around to create a numbers advantage on the playside of the formation.
The play calls for Lawrence to be blocked by the left tackle (number 60). But things don’t go as planned for the offense as Lawrence shows off that power, discarding the blocker with a one-handed shove to the shoulder, throwing him out of the gap. That kind of rag-dolling of a 300-pound man is not an easy thing to do and is likely the kind of thing which attracted the Giants to Lawrence.
Versatility and hustle
It’s fun (and efficient) when you get a play that shows off two traits at the same time.
Lawrence is pretty much universally referred to as a “nose tackle” when evaluated, and its easy to see why: With his size and power, he has the ability to command double teams and push the pocket from the interior. That, in fact, makes up the bulk of his pass rushing upside: Bulling blockers into the backfield and denying passers a pocket into which they can step up.
However, he does have those surprising movement skills for his size, and Clemson took advantage of them. Offensive tackles and tight ends are used to seeing relatively svelte and speedy EDGE players line up across from them. It can’t be a good feeling then to see a player somewhere between 70 and 100 pounds heavier than the average EDGE, with the power shown above, across from you.
It is unlikely that the Giants will line Lawrence up at defensive end in a four-man front, though they did do so with B.J. Hill on occasion. However, that he is able to do so in college just goes to show that the Giants don’t need to play Lawrence exclusively at nose tackle — in fact, Clemson only played Lawrence at nose tackle on 48 percent of his snaps. He has the ability to play from a variety of alignments and the Giants should (and hopefully will) make use of that.
But he isn’t just a big guy at the line of scrimmage, Lawrence gets after it through the whistle.
On the play above, Lawrence gets a free run into the backfield because the Boston College offense called a quick wide receiver screen. But where most 320-plus pound defensive tackles might take the opportunity to jog after the play, Lawrence takes off after the play at a sprint and ultimately is the one to make the tackle.
That’s the kind of play Giants fans got used to seeing from Damon Harrison and does bode well for the team.
What is he lacking?
Lawrence brings a lot of positive traits to the Giants’ defensive line, but he isn’t a perfect prospect — if he was he would have been reckoned at the same level as Quinnen Williams and Ed Oliver. There are two major concerns with Lawrence that are common to massive defensive tackles: Quickness and stamina.
Lawrence is athletic and powerful, which means that he can get going better than most massive tackles. But there is a difference between that and being “twitched up” and quick on an absolute scale. In the first play we saw him throw an annoying offensive lineman out of the way, but he wasn’t able to get penetration before the pulling guard sealed him out of the play. There a quicker player might have been able to shoot that gap and either slow down the quarterback or make the play in the backfield. That isn’t to say he can’t contribute to the pass rush, but Lawrence’s path into the backfield will be through blockers, not around them, and that tends to be slower.
There is also the matter of his stamina. Whenever Lawrence is on the field, he plays hard and hustles with a high-revving motor. But in college he wasn’t on the field that often in the grand scheme of things. The Clemson defense as a whole played 1023 snaps in 2018, and Lawrence only saw 460 of them, or 44.9 percent. It is somewhat unrealistic to believe that Lawrence will be an every-down player for the Giants, and will need to be a part of a rotation for them to get the most out of him.
That rotation was already a stout one and the strength of the defense as currently constructed. Adding Lawrence just made it even stouter.