AUBURN, Ala. — The hype Carl Lawson has received in his Auburn career doesn’t quite match his stats.
On a week in which Auburn faces Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, the most productive pass rusher in college football, Lawson’s lack of big-time sack and tackle for loss numbers have been a hot topic on the Plains. The junior has recorded 4 tackles and just 1 sack through the first two games of the season.
But according to one of his fellow starters on the defensive line, Lawson’s impact for the Auburn defense goes well beyond the box score.
“One thing that we always talk about is that stats don’t tell how you’re playing,” Auburn defensive tackle Dontavius Russell said. “Some people will just look at stats and tell you how you’re playing, but if they don’t run to your side, how can you make a tackle?”
Lawson is widely regarded as one of the best possible pass-rushing options for NFL franchises at next year’s NFL draft.
— A.J. Milack (@SSAJMilackNFL) September 8, 2016
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller recently listed Garrett at No. 1 and Lawson at No. 2 in his edge defender rankings for the 2017 draft. Lawson isn’t too far behind Garrett in position rankings at other outlets such as Rivals and Walter Football.
However, their numbers aren’t as close as their projections for the upcoming draft. Through 23 games — a count which, to be fair, has been affected by multiple injuries — Lawson has 6 career sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Through 27 games, Garrett has 25 sacks and 35 tackles for loss.
Yet, according to Russell, that separation in stats doesn’t tell the whole story for Lawson and defensive linemen in general.
“As long as I’m occupying my gap, I feel like I’m playing well,” Russell said. “I’m not looking at what tackles I have or stats I have. If you run to my side a lot, I feel like I have a lot of tackles. If you don’t, I won’t.”
FERG’S FILM ROOM: Auburn’s defensive line rotation vs. A-State
Russell also attributed Lawson’s lower numbers to the high rate of rotation Auburn has on its defensive line this season due to tremendous depth. The Tigers went three-deep at every defensive line position in Week 2 against Arkansas State, so Lawson hasn’t had as many opportunities to rush the passer as other elite defensive ends in 2016.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele echoed Russell on Wednesday night, saying his starter at Buck defensive end has been productive through the first two weeks of the season. Even though he isn’t sacking quarterbacks at a high rate, he’s providing solid pressure.
Auburn moved Carl Lawson around a lot last night, but his straight rush on a LT was the best. Forced DW4 into pick. pic.twitter.com/C25oKZ1DCm
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) September 4, 2016
“He’s done his job,” Steele said. “Like the other day, one of the sacks that happened — he got one, but another one of them that happened, happened because of him.”
But that’s not to say Lawson doesn’t have the drive to get those eye-popping stats that fans and NFL franchises look for in elite pass rushers.
“Carl is obsessive compulsive about the game of football, and that’s a great thing,” Steele said. “He’s harder on himself than any of us could ever be. He thinks that if they throw it 10 times that he ought to have 6 sacks, and that’s a good thing.”
No matter what the box scores may say for Lawson, he definitely has the attention of Texas A&M heading into Saturday’s SEC opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Earlier this week, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin singled out Lawson in the individual matchup against new starting offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor:
Knight: Carl Lawson is going to present a fun matchup for Eluemunor. He's going to get to showcase his talents for us.
— TexAgs (@TexAgs) September 13, 2016
The Aggies know what Russell and his defensive coordinator already know about Lawson. The elite rushing talents are there on every snap they play, even if they don’t always turn into big numbers on the stat sheets.
“He’s a bad man,” Russell said. “He’s real talented. He’s a real talented player.”