The interior of The Chargers defensive line could look very different when the 2019 season begins. As of now, the bolts are slated to have four defensive linemen that will hit the free agent market when the new league year commences on March 13th. Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget, Darius Philon and Damion Square have expiring contracts and all could be in could be in new uniforms next season.
The Chargers should make the decision to bring back Square and/or Philon, as both have proved to be key rotational pieces to the defensive front. Even if that plan succeeds, the line will still need to be reinforced. That help could come in the form of Clemson defensive tackle, Dexter Lawrence.
Lawrence was one of the top high school recruits in the county and quickly became a force on Clemson’s defense. Over the next three seasons he would be named the 2016 ACC defensive rookie of the year and earned first-team All-ACC following his sophomore and junior seasons. However, Lawrence’s college career ended on a low note when he was suspended for a positive banned substance that kept him from participating in the national championship game in January.
At 6-foot-4, 343 pounds, Lawrence’s best traits are shown as a primary run defender. He is an anchor capable of occupying space, taking on double teams and closing lanes for opposing running backs. Lawrence possesses short area athleticism and is deceptively agile for player of his size. He also displays good hand technique when shedding tackles and uses his power to his advantage to get into the backfield.
He doesn’t have the explosiveness to be a consistent interior pass rusher, but still shows decent quickness off the snap. He shows limited lateral movement and average pass rushing skills which will could limit his draft value. Lawrence managed only 3.5 sacks over the last two years, but he still recorded 43 QB pressures, 131 tackles (18 for loss) and 10 total sacks during his college career.
After leading all defensive lineman at the combine with 36 reps on the bench press and turning in an impressive 40 time of 5.05, Lawrence was off to a great start at the combine. However it would be short lived as Lawrence suffered a minor quad injury that forced him out of the rest of the drills in Indianapolis. Luckily, the injury is not expected to keep the former tiger from performing at Clemson’s pro-day on March 14th.
Lawrence has earned his reputation as an exceptional two down run defender. But teams that value interior pass rush may not see that from him at the next level. Still, his college production still has draft analysis looking at Lawrence as a potential first round pick. Daniel Jeremiah currently ranks the former tiger at No. 31 on his big board and ESPN’s Todd McShay recently mocked Lawrence to The Chargers with the 28th overall selection.
Since Tom Telesco became general manager of The Chargers, the team has not spent higher than a 3rd round pick on a defensive tackle. BFTB’s own Louis Gorlini makes a strong argument as to why The Chargers have historically undervalued the defensive tackle spot and why fans should not expect the team to spend a first round pick on the position.
Los Angeles could look to free agency to add another veteran to their defensive front. Additionally, The NFL draft is extremely deep at the the defensive line position, which could afford The Chargers the opportunity to focus their efforts on other areas of need in the higher rounds. With the free agency looming and the possibility of the line lacking serious depth, there is definitely an argument to be made as to why Lawrence would make sense for The Chargers to select him at 28.
Could this finally be the year that Telesco puts a high investment on the interior of the defensive line? Only time will tell.