I realize what I’m about to say could be jarring to virgin ears. But it has to be said.
Robert Nkemdiche isn’t the best defensive end in the country- Carl Lawson is. I can feel the tremors from Loganville, Georgia from here.
I understand that I’m one of only a few people on the planet who doesn’t think that Nkemdiche is the best end in the country, but after going over a mountain of film, I’ve come to my stark realization.
Now, probably many readers have already x’ed out of this article already based on my blasphemous claims, but let me explain why I think what I think.
Both players are utterly superb defensive linemen. Both are ranked in the top five players nationally by virtually every recruiting publication in the world. Both are from Jimmy Carter’s Peach State (Nkemdiche from Loganville and Lawson from Alpharetta). Fitting that both of these elite talents are eyeing the the toughest conference in the country, the SEC (Nkemdiche looking HARD at Ole Miss and Lawson committed to Auburn).
But what separates these players? The biggest difference is pass rush ability. Nkemdiche is fantastic at reading and stopping the run, and has an advantage over Lawson in that respect. But defensive ends aren’t paid monstrous money or drafted highly based on their run-stuffing abilities. Think Mario Williams went number one overall because he could stop the run? No. He got to the quarterback. Julius Peppers going number two overall because he was excellent against a rushing attack? No. He got to the quarterback.
Putting pressure on a quarterback is the number one priority of a defensive lineman, especially in today’s pass-happy game.
Lawson is the epitome of a pass rusher. No, he doesn’t have the elite size that Nkemdiche offers (Nkemdiche is 6’5” 260lbs and Lawson 6’2” 255lbs). But he easily has more polish in his pass rushing skills. Lawson is strong (450lbs bench press max) and fast (4.65 40 yard dash), similar in both regards to Nkemdiche. But Lawson is insanely quick off the ball. He’s almost as quick off the ball as Jadeveon Clowney, which is outrageously quick.
Lawson is not only more explosive off the snap than Nkemdiche, but he has better hands. As a pass rushing defensive lineman, you ideally want to explode off the ball, stay low, and do whatever you can to keep an offensive lineman’s hands off you. That means you need fast, active hands, and an arsenal of moves. Swim, rip, wipe and punch to keep distance between you and the mammoth beast opposite of you. Nkemdiche has good, not great hands. He’s used to being bigger than the man opposite of him and uses his sheer size and strength to try and bull rush through his nemesis. That won’t work in the SEC. He’s going to have to adjust his game to counter that. Lawson is already prepared for that.
Lawson has fantastic counter-moves, another thing Nkemdiche has to work on. What I mean by that is more than half the time, your primary move will be to rush the outside of the lineman. But a smart defensive lineman uses that rush to setup the counter. Lull the tackle into going outside, then counter inside, or vice versa. Indianapolis Colts pass rushing freak Dwight Freeney has mastered this. A chop to the outside shoulder, a spin and stab with the opposite hand, and you’re getting ready to crush the quarterback. Freeney, by the way is only 6’1”, so anyone who says you have to be 6’5” or taller to get to the qb is simply ignorant.
So in essence, Nkemdiche has better size and run-stopping abilities than Lawson. Lawson is quicker, more explosive, has better hands and a better counter-move. What really pushed me to go with Lawson, though? His drills throughout the various camp circuits.
Lawson went against the absolute best offensive linemen in the country and simply man-handled them. Over and over again. What do Derwin Gray (6’4” 291lbs- committed to Maryland), Khaliel Rodgers (6’3” 300lbs- Southern Cal), Grant Hill (6’6”315lbs- Alabama) and Shamire DeVine (6’6” 360lbs- Georgia Tech) have in common? They’ve been utterly destroyed by Lawson in one on one’s. I mean, just watch the film of it. It’s out there for everyone to see. I still can’t find any film of Nkemdiche doing one on one’s anywhere.
So there ya have it. I realize finding people who agree with me on this is like finding Republicans in Baltimore or Chicago. And by no means am I saying Nkemdiche won’t be an All-American or even a high first round draft pick. I just so happen to believe he’s the second best defensive end in America.