If you were asked who you thought was considered North Carolina State's most valuable defensive lineman over the past two seasons, the answer would probably be defensive end Mario Williams. Williams is considered to be a top-five pick the upcoming NFL Draft and has been terrorizing opponent's backfields for the past three seasons. If you didn't choose Williams, your answer may have been tackle John McCargo, who will also likely be taken on the first day of the draft and excels at getting a push up the middle. Guess what? You would be wrong with both of those answers. In actuality, the most valuable defensive lineman for N.C. State over the past couple of seasons (as voted by players and coaches) was defensive end Manny Lawson.
One of the most versatile athletes in the entire draft, Lawson has been rising up draft boards over the past few months. As a high school student, Lawson was a monster both on the gridiron and on the track. He recorded 54 tackles and 11 sacks in his final season at Eastern Wayne High School, while also qualifying for state championships in several track and field events (including long jump, triple jump, 55-meter dash and 55-meter hurdles). His career in both sports did not end after graduation however, as Lawson went on to N.C. State to perform at a high level in both areas.
As a freshman with the Wolfpack, Lawson blocked three punts while ending the campaign with a season-high nine tackles against Notre Dame. During his sophomore season in 2003, Lawson played primarily standing up as a linebacker and continued his success on special teams, returning one of his blocked punts for six points against North Carolina. By this time, Lawson had also won several Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) titles while setting different records for his participation on the track as well.
His junior season was no different than his first two, as Lawson led the ACC in sacks (seven) while also ranking third on the team in tackles behind the line of scrimmage with 12. Lawson continued to show his versatility as well, seeing time both at outside linebacker and at right defensive end. Last year, Lawson again terrorized opposing passers and punters, recording 63 tackles, 21 tackles behind the line, 9.5 sacks with a block.
Lawson exhibited his blazing speed at the NFL Combine, running a 4.43 40-yard dash that absolutely blew everyone at his position out of the water. Lawson is a pass-rush specialist who excels at beating his man to the edge and getting to the quarterback. His freakish athletic ability is also evident in one of the more popular pictures surrounding the NFL Draft, which shows Lawson, 6-foot-5 3/8, 245 pounds, jumping well above the top of a basketball net, high enough that he could easily grab the top of the backboard. As a linebacker, Lawson has shown that he can drop back into coverage and stick opposing backs and tight ends and shows solid ball skills as well. Lawson wraps up well in the open field and is also a dynamite special teams' player.
The one thing about Lawson, though, is that he is definitely a guy who needs to be in the right situation to succeed - if he does get in the right scheme, watch out! He's a tad on the leaner side to play defensive end in a base 4-3 defense full-time but would absolutely thrive in a Robert Mathis-like pass rush role. He does not use his hands well and tends to get swallowed up by the bigger offensive linemen. He'll need to work on his ability to stop the run, which goes hand in hand with his lack of size.
While Lawson may be most valuable as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense, there are some teams that could definitely draft him as a defensive end. A team such as the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns or Philadelphia Eagles, that do not require as much size from their ends as sheer athleticism, could definitely take a flier on him in Round 1. As a rush linebacker, however, you can expect Lawson's stock to rise substantially, and some experts think that he could make a DeMarcus Ware-like rise up draft boards to be taken in the top 15 picks as a linebacker.
Lawson's ceiling has yet to be determined, as there are plenty of teams that are switching to a 3-4 defense that could use a rush linebacker of his caliber in the middle rounds of the draft. As a defensive end his value is best somewhere in the beginning of Round 2, but he should fall no further than the St. Louis Rams with their second-round pick (46th overall).
What is the most likely scenario though? In reality, it is quite possible to see the New York Jets take Lawson with their second-round pick (35th overall) to play in their new 3-4 scheme.
About Francis Duffy
"Fran Duffy has been involved in sports since he was a child. A Philadelphia native, Fran is obviously a die-hard fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. Fran is desperately waiting to see his first major championship from one of his hometown teams. He is a Broadcasting major at Temple University and has experience on the radio as well as in television production. Fran also currently works with Temple football's video-operation's team and is an avid fantasy sports player. Looking for more experience in writing, Fran joined KFFL in the spring of 2005."
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