As the Jets get closer to training camp, I am examining the roster and giving you my top 25 players. Each weekday, we will reveal another person on the list, leading right into camp. I am not including rookies on this list because I do not feel it is possible to fully evaluate them before they play a game.
No. 5: Carl Lawson
Last year’s ranking: Unranked (not on team)
Age on Opening Day: 26
How acquired: Signed a three-year, $45 million free agent contract on March 18
Years left on contract: 3
2021 Salary Cap figure: $14.3 million
Looking back at 2020
Lawson had a productive season for the Bengals and parlayed that into $30 million in guaranteed money from the Jets in free agency.
Lawson played in all 16 games for Cincinnati, starting 11. He had 36 tackles, 5 ½ sacks, 32 quarterback hits, four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. His 64 quarterback pressures were fourth in the NFL, according to PFF.
PFF graded him 14th out of 108 edge rushers and eighth in pass rushing. He had 34 quarterback hurries and 20 stops, which are tackles that constitute a loss for the offense.
Outlook for 2021
The Jets have not had a dominant edge rusher since trading away John Abraham in 2006. They are hoping that Lawson can end that drought.
GM Joe Douglas spent big money to bring Lawson in and give Robert Saleh the edge rusher the Jets have lacked for years. Lawson’s sack production is not sparkling, but he has gotten to the quarterback enough in Cincinnati that the Jets believe his sacks will rise in their system. The key for Lawson and everyone on the defensive line will be the secondary’s coverage giving them enough time to get sacks. The Jets are very young at cornerback and if opposing quarterbacks can get rid of the ball quickly, Lawson’s sacks will not happen.
Lawson looks the part. During the spring, he was easy to pick out on the field even among 89 other professional football players. He Is built like a bodybuilder and showed impressive burst during minicamp.
It is always an interesting jump when players go from overachieving unknown to highly paid. In Cincinnati, Lawson was a fourth-round pick who exceeded expectations. Even with 5 ½ sacks, that is good production for a fourth-round pick. That will be viewed as a failure with the Jets, since the team gave him big money. That could be Lawson’s biggest adjustment this season.