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Cowboys 2021 player profile: Demarcus Lawrence

The defensive end was one of the most underrated players in football last season.

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Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

As we flip our player profile series to the defensive side of the ball, today we take a look at the Cowboys’ highest-paid defender, Demarcus Lawrence. Lawrence has been often criticized for his lack of sack production since signing a long-term deal in 2019, but when you dive deeper into his play on the field you see just how important he is to this defense.

Today, we look back at Lawrence’s underrated 2020 season and project forward to what he might do in 2021.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Contract Status: Signed through 2024, potential out in 2022 (Via Spotrac)

2020 Recap: If you are looking strictly at sack numbers, most people would be disappointed with Demarcus Lawrence’s 2020 season. The now 29-year-old once again failed to reach double-digit sacks, finishing the season with just 6.5. It’s fair to want more volume in that department from a guy with a $25 million cap hit, but to see Lawrence’s true value to the defense you have to look deeper than just a sack number.

Lawrence was absolutely dominant against the run in 2020. The former second-round pick had the third-most run defense stops among all defensive ends in football at 26. His 36 tackles against the run also were the third-best among qualifying defensive ends. Lawrence’s had a PFF run-defense grade above 70 in nine of the 16 games he appeared in during the 2020 season. His overall run grade of 79.7 was also the tenth best among defensive ends in football.

Despite not posting a huge sack number, Lawrence still made an impact rushing the passer. Lawrence had the eighth-best overall pass-rush grade in football at 85.7, according to PFF. He also registered 11 tackles for loss to go with 34 quarterback hurries, tying him for tenth most in the NFL.

On an atrocious defense, Lawrence was one of the lone bright spots. He brought maximum effort and performance week in and week out and was clearly the best defender on the team. Lawrence also continued to leave his struggles with staying on the field in the rearview mirror. The defensive end appeared in all 16 games for the fourth consecutive season, proving his injury issues are a thing of the past.

2021 Outlook: The Cowboys had a ton of struggles on defense in 2020, and they may very well have some of the same issues in 2021, but Demarcus Lawrence’s production will be one thing they won’t have to worry about. Lawrence has proved that he is the alpha on this defense in the past two seasons, giving max effort every play and being the clear leader of the unit.

As good as Lawrence was in 2020, getting 3-4 more sacks would be a huge boost to this defense. If he’s able to be just as good against the run and reach double-digit sacks for the first time since 2018, Lawrence has a good shot at making his first All-Pro team in 2021.

Overall Review: Despite some of the negative outside perceptions, Demarcus Lawrence is still a dominant defender. Even on a historically bad defense in 2020, Lawrence’s individual performance did not waver.

There’s no doubt Lawrence will once again show up big in 2021. If they want to turn things around, it’s up to the rest of the Dallas defense to follow suit.