Demarcus Lawrence spent his first two collegiate season playing for JC powerhouse Butler Community College, where he racked up 27 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Once on the legendary blue turf of Boise State, Lawrence started eleven games in 2012, earning first-team All-Mountain West honors after racking up a team-high 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. He bettered those marks in 2013, starting all 12 games in which he played, leading the Mountain West with 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss (and was a two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week pick). In both seasons in Boise, Lawrence earned First Team All-Mountain West Conference laurels.
At 6'3" and 251 pounds, Lawrence is a classic "tweener." However, because he is both surprisingly strong at the point of attack (he appears bigger on tape than his listed) and quick and agile (he shows good quickness and ability to play in space), Lawrence is making the tweener label work in his favor; a goodly faction of teams are interested in the former Bronco. This stands to reason, as Lawrence has demonstrated a great deal of scheme diversity/ position flex: during his stay in Boise, Lawrence lined up at every position along the defensive line.
This is evident on tape, thanks to the excellent felllows at Draft Breakdown. They have seven of Lawrence's games available for your viewing pleasure, including key Mountain West tilts against BYU and Wyoming as well as BSU's Hawaii Bowl loss to Oregon State. Watching him in action a couple of things jump out: Lawrence is a quick, fluid athlete who possesses good speed off the edge, is flexible enough to "run the arc" at speed and uses his hands well to get off blocks and get to rival ballcarriers - often behind the line of scrtimmage. The downside? He might not be an "RKG": D-Law was suspended in both 2012 and '13 for violations of team rules.
What does our esteemed panel think of Lawrence? There's an interesting divergence of opinion; check it out:
Rob Rang (CBSSports.com): 6th-ranked DE; 56th overall
Strengths: Possesses broad shoulders, long arms and a lanky frame, overall, which appears capable of adding another 10 pounds of muscle. Highly versatile defender asked to play a variety of roles with the Broncos. Shows good (not great) initial quickness off the snap to penetrate off the edge or between gaps. Quick, active hands. Varied pass rush technique, including an over-arm swim, rip, club and even an occasional spin move. Surprisingly strong at the point of attack. Plays with good leverage and anchors well, slipping off blocks effectively to make tackles near the line of scrimmage. Good effort laterally and downfield in pursuit. Rarely asked to drop into coverage but appears to possess the quickness, fluidity and awareness to potentially convert to outside linebacker.
Weaknesses: While quick, does not appear to have the preferred straight-line speed for linebacker and does not possess the bulk normally associated with defensive linemen, making him a potential 'tweener in the eyes of some teams. Struggles to break free once blockers grab hold of his chest plate. Only average balance. Too often gets tripped up and knocked to the ground. Moved around a lot in Boise's scheme, presenting him with advantageous matchups.
Compares To: Jason Babin, Jacksonville Jaguars - Like Babin, Lawrence projects nicely as a LEO defensive end due to his burst, length, tenacity and surprising strength. Impressive collegiate production is mitigated by the level of competition faced, as well as size limitations.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 5th-ranked OLB; 42nd overall
Instincts/ Recognition: Average to slightly above-average football instincts. Plays with his eyes and has adequate recognition skills finding the ball. Above-average patience as a backside defender. Did not see him drop into coverage through four tapes and may need time developing awareness in that area.
Take-on Skills: Long frame with above-average core strength. Quick and heavy hands to disengage. Flashes an explosive punch to initially jar blockers. Works to maintain gap integrity but will get caught peeking inside on occasion when having edge contain. Pad level will rise on occasion and doesn't have an elite anchor to sustain against more powerful blockers.
Range vs. Run: Average to above-average athlete. Quick lateral movement but does show some tightness in hips with sudden redirect on occasion. Above-average closing burst and takes quality angles in pursuit. Loves to chase.
Tackling: Long arms provides him with a wide range in this area. Generally tackles with quality leverage and flashes the ability to strike when able to line up ball carriers. Adequate tackler in space. Will occasionally leave feet, drop eyes and can leave some tackle on the field as a result.
Third Down Capabilities: Big upside as a pass rusher. Above-average first step quickness. Long arms with quick and heavy hands. Good torso flexibility bending the edge. Also can generate power from hips when executing speed-to-power. Strong finisher at the top of his rush and shows a quick closing burst. Did not see him drop into coverage but appears to have enough athleticism on tape hold up in underneath coverage.
Intangibles: Suspended against UNLV in October and later for the Las Vegas Bowl against Washington for violation of team rules in 2012. Suspended again this past fall against Tennessee Martin for disciplinary issues. Scouts will need to investigate character.
Tony Pauline (draftinsider.net): 6th-ranked OLB; 99th overall
Positive: Junior-college transfer coming off a career season. Posted 72 tackles and a team-leading 20.5 tackles for loss as well as 10.5 sacks last year. Sophomore totals included 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Undersized college pass rusher with potential as a one-gap defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. Athletic, agile, and can bend off the edge or immediately alters his angle of attack without losing momentum. Relatively instinctive. Fluid moving to every direction of the field and slices inside of blocks to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Works his hands throughout the play. Displays lateral speed and the ability to make plays in space. Relentless, gets a lot of momentum going up the field, and chases the action hard. Works his hands to get off blocks, breaks down well, and shows speed in backside pursuit.
Negative: Lacks bulk. Handled at the point and can be a liability in run defense. At times just pins his ears back and rushes up the field.
Analysis: Lawrence made an immediate impact at Boise State once arriving and has taken off the past two years. He's an athletic pass rusher with the ability as a pursuit linebacker and comes with a good amount of upside potential.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 3rd-ranked DE; 27th overall
Strengths: Highly athletic. Fluid, flexible and rangy. Terrific balance and body control. Has quick, coordinated hands and feet to slingshot off blocks. Has natural pass-rush ability -- shows burst, bend and closing speed to hunt down quarterbacks. Dips inside suddenly. Terrific knee and ankle flexion -- flattens efficiently and redirects and accelerates smoothly. Explosive tackler. Made an instant impact at BSU and was productive behind the line of scrimmage -- 34 TFL and 20 sacks from 2012-13. Carries a swagger and plays with attitude.
Weaknesses: Could stand to get stronger and play with more pop and power in his hands. Lacks ideal bulk to play with his hand in the dirt. Gets knocked around when he exposes his frame. Doesn't control tight ends. Is weak at the point of attack and gets wiped out by double teams. Can be overaggressive and lose contain or fly by tackles. Can do a better job protecting his legs. Lacks experience playing in reverse. Character and stability need to be looked into.
Draft Projection: Rounds 1-2
Bottom Line: A loose, explosive, long-limbed athlete, Lawrence consistently pressurizes the edge and harasses quarterbacks. His pass-rushing ability rates among the best in this year's class, and he holds mass appeal. Lacks ideal stoutness at the point of attack, but could thrive as a 4-3 right end or 3-4 rush linebacker, and should contribute readily on passing downs.
Our draftniks have Lawrence slotted across a wide swath, ranging from the late first to the late third rounds. Given his athleticism and ability to dip and run around the bend - arguably the most important trait for a defensive end - I'm inclined to slot him along "the bend," that no-man's-land at the end of the first and beginning of the second rounds. What does that mean for Dallas, who drafts both before and after the bend? As I can't imagine that he'd merit the 16th pick, I'll keep my fingers crossed that Lawrence will last to #47, and that's where I'll slot him on my "little board."
Can the Cowboys get the former Boise Stater at #47? That's going to be tough; no fewer than nine teams have expressed interest, six of whom (Atlanta, Minnesota, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and the Jets) had him in for a national visit. If we add in the fact that Washington and New England have interviewed Lawrence, the teams with picks 27, 29 30, 34 37 and 40 can all be considered interested parties. If Lawrence can escape this gauntlet, he'll provide good value when the Cowboys come on the board in the second frame.
As a way of illustrating his value in the middle of round two: Yesterday, we looked at Oregon State DE Scott Crichton. In our evaluation, I said that it would probably take a second round choice to nab him, but that there were more dynamic players on whom I'd prefer to spend my second round pick. Lawrence is one of those players for me, less due to his measurables than to his stunning productivity. As O.C.C. showed after the Combine, Lawrence's production 2.28 ratio was better than Jadaveon Clowney's, and exceeded that of all other defensive end prospects except for Jackson Jeffcoat and two small-school guys, Larry Webster and Zach Moore. What's the greatest indicator of NFL success? Why, college production, of course.
Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Lawrence, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed, supplementary film study of the Boise St. product to add to what you already know.
Tomorrow: West Virginia DE Will Clarke