Now is the dead time in the NFL. Between the end of mandatory minicamps and the beginning of training camps is the big lull in NFL news. As such, you get a lot of rankings articles and speculation pieces since real news is pretty scarce. ESPN is getting in on the act by ranking the Top 10 players at specific positions over the next couple of weeks. They also include six players who “got votes” to make it really a Top 16.
They kicked it off today by ranking edge rushers. That designation allows them to include traditional 4-3 ends and 3-4 outside linebackers. They surveyed 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to come up with their rankings.
As the title to this article gives away, DeMarcus Lawrence didn’t make the list. One caveat to note is this list seems heavily slanted toward pass rushers, and having racked up sacks certainly seems to count for a lot.
That brings up the crux of the argument surrounding Lawrence. He does everything well and is as good an all-around 4-3 end as you will come across, except over the last two years he has come up short in the sacks department. Tank has 11.5 sacks over the last two seasons, that follows two years of double-digit sack totals.
Some of this depends on how much emphasis you put on sacks. Pro Football Focus gave Lawrence the eighth best pass-rush grade last year despite his low sack total. There have also been stats about Lawrence’s win-rate and ability to handle double-teams that speak to his worth as a defensive end, and as a pass rusher. PFF also ranked him as the seventh-best edge defender in 2020.
But in the ESPN survey, it certainly appears that the lack of sacks is hurting his reputation. And that’s not to be dismissed so easily. We have said that sacks are not the only way to measure an edge defender’s worth. On the other hand, sacks do represent something that’s a little more than just pressures or run-stopping ability. Few things ruin an offensive drive faster than a sack. There’s the loss of yardage, but many times they can lead to a fumble. They also work on a quarterback’s mind as he gets happy feet and starts rushing throws. Sacks do mean a lot and not getting them is a shortcoming for Tank.
But is it enough to say he’s not a Top 16 edge rusher? We’ll leave that to you to discuss. Here are the players that were ranked above him.