There's been plenty of talk about how the Cowboys 2014 draft will hinge on the play of Demarcus Lawrence. To some extent that is the case. The Cowboys paid a high price to move up in the second round, forfeiting a very valuable third-round pick. Most experts seem satisfied that first-round pick Zack Martin will be a sure-thing, one of the safest picks in the draft. So Lawrence is the focal point. Not only is the pressure on because of the draft trade, but more importantly, Dallas needs Lawrence to provide the pass-rush pressure from the right defensive end position. So is he capable of approximating the former Cowboys right defensive end, DeMarcus Ware? Not matching, but at least approximating?
Obviously, it's tough to say at this point. We haven't even started up at training camp yet. But beyond the combine stats, the Boise State stats, what kind of player is Demarcus Lawrence? I watched seven cutups of game film focused on Lawrence. The following observations are what I saw, along with how it may play into the Cowboys scheme.
-- Has great play recognition, finds the ball. Lawrence does a very good job of diagnosing a play and modifying his responsibility on the fly. He sees runs, screens, draw plays, trick plays very well, and quickly. Most of the time he is able to pull up, or re-route himself to get in on the action. This will play well for teams like the Redskins who can use RG III in multiple ways, including running the ball, and against the Chip Kelly multi-formation, attack from anywhere offense.
-- Because of his athletic skills, Lawrence does a good job of knifing between double teams. The times teams ran a tackle/tight end combo, or a tackle/running back combo, Lawrence was fairly adept at knifing between them as long as they aren't hitting him together at the line of scrimmage. If he can get the advantage on one, he can use body control and athleticism to avoid the second block coming at him.
-- It's very hard to cut block him, he's too athletic. On plays where teams cut block on the backside of a play, or cut block to open a lane for a quick pass, Lawrence isn't likely to end up the ground. He can still disrupt the play.
-- Beside his obvious speed rush and body control, which is his prime move and what they drafted him for, Lawrence has a decent spin move. His ability to beat blockers with a variety of athletic moves is his calling card.
-- He pursues well down the line on backside of a run, and generally doesn't give up a play, trailing the ball wherever it goes in an effort to get in on the play. This will play well into Marinelli's philosophy of never giving up on a play and always hustling.
-- He has good hands, and is active with them. He usually does a good job of keeping a blocker from getting into his body with his hands and his long arms. But he needs to be much more consistent in this.
-- Lawrence is not strong enough yet for a consistent bull rush. This is one of the two big areas where he will have to improve if he's ever going to resemble DeMarcus Ware. At first, Ware had a similar issue but he quickly got strong enough, and later in his career was strong enough and played with such leverage that he could send the best of left tackles backward onto their butts. This is going to be a key factor for Lawrence's growth as a pass-rusher in the NFL.
-- Teams are going to try and run against him. He needs to get better at holding the point of attack. He actually uses good leverage, but it's bulk and strength he'll need to make it really work. He also sometimes bounces to the side of a block instead of taking it straight on, if he chooses the wrong side a back has a big hole to run through. He must stand up the blocker and hold the point.
-- Didn't demand constant double teams in college. This was surprising, for large parts of games teams left their left tackles on Lawrence one-on-one. He made them pay sometimes, depending on the quality of the tackle, but in the NFL he's going to need to draw more double-teams. That will only come from making teams pay with the single blocking.
-- He can be controlled if he allows a lineman to get his hands into his chest. He has to use his hands and length to consistently keep tackles from getting into his body.
So what did I see? A player with potential because of his length, long arms, body control and fairly good moves on the pass rush. He's going to need two things to take this to the next level. One, Rod Marinelli is going to have to coach him up. Two, he's got to get a little bigger, but mainly a lot stronger. If he does that, he can one day start doing his DeMarcus Ware approximation. But I wouldn't count on it out of the gate. He may be a rotational guy to start with.