Carl Lawson is expected to greatly improve the Jets’ pass-rushing production in his inaugural year with the team.
There were many needs in Florham Park this past offseason…to say the least.
New offensive weapons were required, an upgrade on the offensive line was expected, and many believed the Jets were to bring in a new starting quarterback.
But one of the larger missing pieces of the puzzle happened to be at the edge rusher position — with a new head coach-defensive coordinator tandem in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich in place, the Jets (hopefully) fixed that issue with the signing of Carl Lawson to a three-year contract.
Lawson has proven to be one of the more underrated but talented 4-3 defensive ends this league has to offer. And despite the regular season still being over a month away, Saleh already notices what the 26-year-old could bring to the table.
“What’s cool is his work ethic and the way he goes about his day-to-day process,” the rookie head coach told the media Tuesday. “He is relentless with his body, he is relentless with his work ethic. He is an absolute professional. There’s the old saying, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’ and this dude, not only is he talented but he works his absolute butt off. And because of it, you see results.”
The talent is certainly present but doesn’t show up in the most notorious statistical category for this position — sacks. In four years with Cincinnati (51 total games), Lawson combined for just 20 sacks. This includes recording just 5.5 sacks in a full 16-game season last year.
But Saleh understands this numerical total doesn’t define what Lawson can truly do for this team; there’s more to the position than just the number of times you can physically get to the quarterback.
“We all gear into ‘sacks, sacks, sacks’ but when you’re disrupting the quarterback, you’re disrupting the game,” Saleh said. “It’s a two-way street — the d-line’s job is to disrupt the quarterback, the back end’s job is to make sure that quarterback hitches by playing tight, aggressive coverage. And if the quarterback hitches, looking to his No. 2, 3, or 4 [target], that’s when the d-line comes back into play and makes them pay a price for holding onto the ball.
“Carl is one of those guys that’s going to transcend the scheme. He enters, he’s going to continue to disrupt.”
The on-field value of the Jets defensive line could be at a noteworthy level due to the talent across the board and how well each individual can potentially gel with one another.
Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is one of the top young players at his position while Sheldon Rankins has notable upside (recorded 40 combined tackles and eight sacks in 2018).
The production on the interior could greatly combine with the talents of Lawson, who Saleh believes has the ability to go above and beyond what’s expected of him.
“I always argue that for every quarterback you need two great edge rushers. They’re hard to come by,” Saleh stated. “There are good edge rushers around the league…but those ones that transcend the game are rare. But to be able to get one in this building like Carl — it’s awesome, especially with the push that we should be able to get from the middle of the defensive line.”
The performance of Lawson and the rest of the Jets front seven will be crucial to the defense’s overall success in 2021. The defensive line and linebacking corps must take pressure off a secondary that may include two young and inexperienced starting cornerbacks in Bryce Hall and Bless Austin.