NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2018. This is the sixth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason. Click through the tabs below to see all of them.
Clemson has become a perennial playoff team over the last five years, and while many folks point to the play of their skill-position guys, I believe their defensive line deserves a fair share of credit. The Tigers have produced numerous high draft picks from their defensive front, and this year's group is the deepest they've ever had. The most physically impressive member of their D-line is junior DT Dexter Lawrence. I recently studied three of his games and here is my First Look report:
Dexter Lawrence, junior defensive tackle, Clemson
Height, weight: 6-foot-4, 340 pounds (school measurements).
2017 statistics: 39 tackles, 3 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
Game tape watched: Louisville (Sept. 16, 2017), Virginia Tech (Sept. 30, 2017), Miami (Dec 2, 2017).
What I liked: Lawrence has outstanding size and power. Against the run, he is tough to move off the line of scrimmage and flashes surprising quickness once he gets off blocks. He has very good awareness/recognition.
As a pass rusher, he's still a work in progress, but he generates excellent pocket push because of his raw power. Every now and then, he'll flash a quick hand move to generate pressure. He also has a good feel/timing against the quick game and uses his length to bat down passes.
Where he needs to improve: His biggest issue is his pad level. He's a tall defensive lineman and he plays too high at times, which exposes his chest and allows inferior players to block him. As mentioned above, he's raw in the passing game and needs to come up with a better plan.
Biggest takeaway: I'd like to see Lawrence be a little more consistent and dominant, but I'm in love with his potential. I believe he would really benefit from losing 10 to 15 pounds, which would increase his range against the run and his get-off as a pass rusher. He has only scratched the surface of what he could ultimately become in the near future.
He reminds me of:*Linval Joseph.* The Vikings hit a home run when they signed Joseph in free agency back in March of 2014. He has enormous size and he's immovable at the point of attack. He also is surprisingly nimble and disruptive against the pass. I see some similarities in Lawrence's game tape at Clemson. There is one big difference -- Joseph was grossly underrated coming out of college and even early in his NFL career. I don't think we'll see the same mistake whenever Lawrence decides to move on to the league.
I can't wait to see him play: Texas A&M. This is one of the best non-conference matchups of the season. Jimbo Fisher is very familiar with Clemson after spending so many years at Florida State. He will have a good game plan and he'll do his best to limit the damage from Lawrence and his talented linemates. Will the Aggies coach be successful? We'll find out on September 8th!