The selection reinforces the point both head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley have made incessantly in addressing the Bills’ defensive needs. Whaley lost the services of Mario Williams, Nigel Bradham and Leodis McKelvin via free agency, and Lawson supplies the team with a rookie prospect widely expected to be NFL-ready come Week 1.
The selection continues a recent trend of Clemson players called upon by the Bills in the draft — linebacker Tony Steward was selected by the Bills during the sixth round last year, Watkins was the fourth overall pick in 2014 and safety Jonathan Meeks was selected during the fifth round in 2013. However, of the three, only Meeks and Watkins still remain on the roster, Steward was released this month and signed with the New England Patriots.
The parallels in connections to Clemson come both on and off the field for the Bills, Ryan’s son, Seth, is a walk-on wide receiver for the Tigers.
“I’m heading to Buffalo, but I’m hanging with Rex Ryan now, and he’s ‘All In,’ like we do at Clemson,” Lawson said on the draft floor stage Thursday night to ESPN’s Suzy Kolber. “So it feels like I’m at home.”
Lawson paced the entire NCAA last season in tackles for a loss (25.5), which helped fuel Clemson leading the nation in the same statistic for the third straight season. For his career, Lawson totaled 20.5 sacks, with 12.5 during the first 2015 season, the first he served as a starter.
He did miss moments during last year’s Orange Bowl because of a shoulder injury, and Adam Schefter reported that while the Bills are confident in the selection, Lawson will ultimately require shoulder surgery that will sideline him for 4-6 months. The surgery will likely take place after his rookie season, according to Schefter’s report.
Some think Lawson will best be suited in a 4-3 scheme, however, it is widely believed he can remain just as effective as a 3-4 pass-rusher. Scouts were left salivating over the athleticism he showed during February’s NFL Scouting Combine.
The question of where the Bills will play Lawson still remains. The roster already includes the services of Jerry Hughes as an edge rusher and Manny Lawson at strong-side linebacker, so the 21-year-old could likely see himself shuffled around the field.
Friday morning during his introductory press conference, Lawson was asked about what his first impressions of the Bills organization were. Excitedly, he described how much he wanted to join the squad because of Rex Ryan.
“I knew Buffalo was sitting there at 19 and I was like, ‘Please come get me Rex,’” he said. “And when I got that call from New York, I knew I was coming to Buffalo and it’s just been a great city. I experienced a lot this morning. I’ve seen the city and places and things like that.”
He also shared the story of when he first met Ryan while he was a freshman at Clemson. He and Ryan’s son were moving into their dorms, and shared a pre-destined moment with the head coach.
“I first met Rex Ryan was my freshman year at Clemson. Me and Seth were both moving into the freshman dorms and he was just talking about how he had two first-round picks that attended Hargrave and he said maybe that can be you one day and that was the first thing that he said to me when I first met Rex.
“I’m very prepared. I’m ready to bring what I bring to the table. A guy who’s going to set the edge on the run, a guy who’s going to get after the quarterback. I’m just ready to play football.”
The Bills next selection is scheduled at No. 49 overall in the second round.
More stories you might like