None of the credible mock drafts – if there is such a thing – I’ve read recently have Carl Lawson going in the first round. But I’ve seen Takkarist McKinley, T.J. Watt, Taco Charlton and Charles Harris all listed as possible No. 1s, and while it’s true those four outside linebackers either have flashier stats or better measurables than Lawson, none of them is as good a player as the former Auburn star.
The biggest knock on Lawson is durability. Prior to finally enjoying good health as a fourth-year junior in 2016, he missed a total of 19 games the previous two seasons with a torn ACL and a hip flexor. And while I get why that might bother some teams, especially ones like the Packers that have been plagued by a spate of injuries in recent years, it shouldn’t be enough to keep him from being drafted ahead of a player like Harris, who’s softer than Charmin at the point of attack.
Is Lawson worth the 29th pick in the draft? Well, his college tape is more impressive than Nick Perry’s, and general manager Ted Thompson selected the former USC star 28th overall in 2012. And while Green Bay’s new $59 million man is bigger (1 inch taller and 10 pounds heavier) and ran a slightly better 40 at the Combine (4.64 to 4.67), he wasn’t as productive on the field. Lawson played faster and with more urgency. He was also a superior pass rusher thanks to a more explosive first step and a better closing burst.
Playing the run – which has been the best part of Perry’s game since joining the Packers – is the one area where Lawson needs to improve. He can be a bit slow to diagnose plays, but that should improve with better coaching and more experience. And while disengaging from blocks will always be an issue due to short arms (31 1/2 inches), his strong upper body and powerful hands should keep him from ever being a liability.
One thing Lawson and Perry have in common is stiffness in the lower body. Neither player is particularly fluid. Of course, this hasn’t kept Perry from (finally) developing into one of the better all-around 3-4 outside linebackers in the league, and I don’t see it keeping Lawson from achieving similar success. Sure it might hinder him from becoming a perennial All-Pro, but hey, who’s realistically expecting that at the very end of round 1?
Without the ability to accurately analyze wide receivers and defensive backs – anyone who says they can without access to the coaches tape is full of crap – and without knowing which players will still be available when the Packers are on the clock, I can’t definitively say that Thompson should draft Lawson with his first pick. But if the choice does ultimately come down to an outside linebacker, the feeling here is that the guy who seems to be flying a bit under the radar right now will end up flying the highest in the NFL.