"I'm going to declare for the draft. It was a tough decision," Lawson said. "I sat down with my family, sat down with the support staff at Clemson. I enjoyed being at Clemson, but it's time. I'm ready for the next level."
Lawson leads the FBS with 22 tackles for loss, and his 9.5 sacks lead the Tigers as they begin preparation for a College Football Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The junior (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) is best suited to play end in a 4-3 scheme. He has played some of his best football against Clemson's toughest competition this season, including 3.5 tackles for loss in a key win over Notre Dame.
Lawson is one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, presented to the nation's top lineman each year.
College underclassmen have until a Jan. 18 deadline to apply for early draft eligibility.