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ESPN looks beyond the sack total.
Training camp is finally underway, sort of, firing up our anticipation for football to return. Dallas Cowboys rookies are getting cleared to enter the Star at Frisco, and next week the veterans will join the process. Because of the very constrained nature of camp and the expected elimination of all preseason games, this season, if it goes off on schedule, will force all teams to rely even more heavily on their veterans. Dallas is fortunate to have a lot of talent. It is slanted toward the offense, but in a recent top 10 list, ESPN judged that they also have a pretty good pass rusher in defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who squeaked into their last spot.
Age: 28 | Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: Off the ballot
Lawrence and Danielle Hunter had an equal number of votes, but Lawrence broke the tie with two more top-five votes than Hunter. It’s surprising to see a player with five sacks last season on this list, but Lawrence drew steady double-teams while Quinn ate up sacks.
“At some point you have to go through somebody — if you can’t, the tackle will sit soft on you and speed will be mitigated,” an NFC exec said. “[Lawrence] is one of the best at using his power.”
Lawrence won on 25.8% of his pass rushes, which makes his low sack total curious. But coaches like his versatility to rush the passer or stop the run. He also earned an 86.3 PFF rating last year.
“He’s not as consistent a pass-rusher as I’d like, but he’s deserving,” a veteran defensive coach said. “Can rush inside and out.”
Lawrence did get some mixed reviews, as the highest and lowest rankings indicated, and that is also true of his perception in the Cowboys’ fan base. Many lock in on his relative lack of sacks last season, but the people voting in this ranking recognize that bringing down the quarterback is a team effort, and many accept the idea that Robert Quinn was the beneficiary of Lawrence being the center of attention in pass blocking.
ESPN attempted to get a wide view in this ranking:
To preview the 2020 NFL season, we asked more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions (sorry, special-teamers).
Therefore, this reflects a league-wide view of Lawrence, which may be different than one from just the local media and fans of the Cowboys.
One thing it really doesn’t change is how much the defense is going to need him to once again be the big threat on passing downs. While Aldon Smith is now joining him on the line and the underappreciated Tyrone Crawford is also healthy, they will probably be most valuable in the Quinn role, feeding off the attention directed at the left side of the defense. Not only does Lawrence rate double teams, he is the player in the face of the quarterback, drawing even more attention to himself and making things a bit easier for whoever is manning the bookend.
Perhaps this is just one viewpoint. But ESPN is hardly alone in praising Lawrence. The Draft Network considers him not just the best pass rusher in the NFC East, they see him as the best defensive player, period.
Best Defensive Player: Demarcus Lawrence, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys
Fletcher Cox probably would’ve been the choice if it weren’t for a foot injury that hampered his 2019 output, but with that being the unfortunate case, Demarcus Lawrence is the pick here instead. Although he also saw a dip in sack production like Cox (5.5), Lawrence still had a quality 2019 season, ranking third in ESPN’s pass-rush “win rate” metric and displaying complete dominance in the run game. With his big contract and Dallas’ unavoidable spotlight, many have seen Lawrence’s basic numbers and assumed he’s disappointed, but that simply isn’t the case.
Also putting forth quality pressure numbers, a lot of what Lawrence does isn’t flashy and won’t garner much attention, but he’s a fantastic edge presence with the ability to completely change games.
Dallas has a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan as well as Jim Tomsula taking over the line, but with the forced restrictions on getting ready for the season, they may have to rely a bit more on holdovers than they might like. With Lawrence, that actually should be a plus.