All of the NFL scouts in attendance, plus Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, could easily see Carl Lawson Jr.’s football talent.
While standing on his stellar numbers at the NFL scouting combine, Lawson, who played at Milton High, powered his way through the defensive lineman and linebacker drills during Auburn’s Pro Day on Friday at the school’s indoor facility.
But what the NFL teams want to know most is whether Lawson was a one-year wonder at Auburn and if he’s healthy after missing all of 2014 and most of 2015 season with serious knee and hip injuries.
It’s still a touchy subject with Lawson, who had to explain the injuries at the combine.
“I told them what happened,” Lawson said. “They have the information. They know that I’m healthy.
“It’s just a narrative that’s always been put out there. ‘Oh, Carl Lawson is hurt.’ Yeah, I’ve had some injuries in my past. I’m healthy and I’ve been healthy for a year and half. That’s all in the past.”
Lawson is a graduate of Milton High and the son of former Georgia Tech fullback Carl Lawson Sr., who played on the school’s 1990 national championship team. He lifted 225 pounds 35 times at the combine, which ranked tied for first with Utah’s Isaac Asiata among defensive linemen. He was also a top performer in the vertical jump at 33 inches.
When healthy last season, Lawson had nine sacks and flashed the talent that made him the No. 2-rated defensive end in the nation coming out of high school by PrepStar. He played 33 games over his career and made 20 starts for the Tigers.
Auburn Pro Day
Some people project that Lawson will be selected in the first round of the NFL draft, which is set for April 27-29 in Philadelphia. He could be available when the Falcons select with the 31st pick, but he is rising on some team’s draft boards after his combine medical clearance and strong workout.
The Falcons have said the offensive and defensive lines are always a priority, and they want to improve their pass rush.
“The No. 1 thing is get-off,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn, when asked about how he evaluates pass rushers. “I want to see if the guy can beat you to the punch. As a pass rusher, having that get-off to stress the offensive tackle the most right off the bat and to break down their technique based on the guys initial quickness. That’s what I look of the most.”
Once Quinn, a former defensive line coach, establishes that the player has the take-off, he must determine if the player has the mentality to finish the rush.
“Very rarely, do you just beat a guy with one move,” Quinn said. “It’s the strain, the battle, the finish to go the extra step and win the last yard. Those guys that have that kind of fight and that kind of speed and get-off, generally, you are going to hear their names called early on (in the draft).”
Lawson believes he fits that makeup.
“Oh yeah, easily,” Lawson said when asked if he was worthy of a first-round pick. “If you’ve followed me throughout my career, I watch film all of the time. I watch NFL film. I’m a guy who can potentially win one-on-one on the edge.”
Lawson projects that his skills translate to the NFL.
“I feel like I have the qualities to rush the passer,” Lawson said. “Win consistently one-on-one against any tackle. Right or left. I can do it against any offensive linemen. Both sides. Half of my sacks came from one side, half came from the other. Some came from three-point (stance) and the others from two-point (stance). I can rush the passer from all angles.”
Some of the teams that use the 3-4 alignment wanted to see Lawson drop in coverage Friday. He looked fast, but not very fluid working under the direction of Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, a former Auburn standout who’s the outside linebacker coach with the New York Jets.
Lawson, who spoke with Tomlin, knows that’s not his strong suit.
“I was trying to tell him that I can drop in coverage, and he said, ‘Nah, I need you to rush the passer,’” Lawson said.
Lawson also spent time with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter, while the Packers and Titans consulted Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner about Lawson.
“He was giving me some advice,” Lawson said of Porter. “I was picking his brain. He’s a longtime pro. A longtime coach. I was just picking his brain. It was great to gain knowledge.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn believes Lawson will be selected early in the draft.
“He deserves that,” Malzahn said. “He was one of the best players in our league. He’s very talented.”
However, Malzahn, like Tomlin, wasn’t so sure about Lawson dropping into coverage.
“The bottom line is that he can rush the passer,” Malzahn said. “If you look back at Dee Ford, there were a lot of questions regarding Dee Ford, and I think him and Carl have a similar skill-set.”
Ford was drafted in the first round in 2014 and has played three seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs.