The Falcons need pass rush and they've needed it for years. Even though the defense greatly improved in Dan Quinn's first year, the pass rush was still a major area of weakness. Atlanta only managed 19 sacks on the season, three less than the year before. Expect the Falcons to bring in a major upgrade in free agency or spend a premium draft pick to try and bring Vic Beasley some help moving forward.
If they choose to upgrade via the draft Shaq Lawson, another pass rusher from Clemson, makes a ton of sense.
Lawson is a different mold than Vic Beasley. He's listed at 6'3", 270 on Clemson's football site and he plays as big as his listed size. While Beasley is more of a speed rusher, Lawson has a nice blend of power and speed that makes him a terror against the run and pass.
What stands out when watching Shaq Lawson is his ability to explode and bend in confined areas. On the following play, notice his discipline when reading the offensive line. He reads the tackle moving away from him, which is signifier to stay home in case a counter or read option comes his way. Once he recognizes it's a pass play he quickly explodes upfield, dodging the guard and bends on his way to sacking the quarterbacks.
Here's another example of Lawson's short area quickness. After spinning off the tackle he explodes into the ballcarrier Kermit Whitfield, one of the fastest players in the country.
Shaq Lawson isn't the most creative pass rusher, but when he deviates from a simple speed rush or bull rush, the results are usually good. His spin move is too quick for most collegiate tackles to keep up with and he effectively uses it before reaching the depth of the quarterback. Lawson's spin was too quick for Notre Dame stud Ronnie Stanley and he drew a huge holding penalty.
Lawson is also a terror against the run. The Falcons run defense was strong last season for the most part, but an added boost in that area along the defensive line can't hurt. Lawson's gap discipline is excellent and that's really the foundation for any good run defense.
Here Lawson keeps his outside shoulder free, shows textbook hand placement to control the left tackle, and sheds the lineman to stuff the running back for a loss. This is the type of physical play that Dan Quinn wants preaches on defense. The violence in his punch and shed is incredible, as is his tenacity when bringing down the ballcarrier.
Lawson isn't a perfect prospect; he's still raw when it comes to executing against certain offensive line tactics. He struggles when guards are pulling towards him often attack with his inside shoulder instead of shooting down the line of scrimmage. This part of his game should be a quick fix because he often takes his first read steps correctly, he just needs to finish better.
Lawson will lead with his wrong shoulder and arm when attacking blockers at times, but given the improvement we've seen from Ra'Shede Hageman and Vic Beasley this season, it shouldn't be a make or break deficiency.
How does Lawson fit in with the Falcons?
Lawson would immediately fit in as the LEO (weak side defensive end) as Beasley saw a fair amount of reps as the strongside linebacker towards the end of the season. Strictly on the field, his play style is similar to Seahawks defensive lineman Frank Clark, who uses length, power, and speed to win against opposing offensive linemen.
This is the type of player that Dan Quinn needs in his front seven. Fiery, physical, and passionate, Lawson brings a lot to the table that the Falcons are missing on their defensive line. As Atlanta looks to accrue pass rushing talent in this offseason, Shaq Lawson should be prominent name on their radar.