After news spread that Sammy Watkins had surgery to repair a broken foot, it was reported that first-round pick Shaq Lawson is going to need shoulder surgery. The procedure is expected to sideline Lawson for five to six months, meaning that he is likely to miss at least half of the season. The Bills could not afford to have such a major injury, and not having Lawson will have a negative impact on their defense.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) May 16, 2016
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 16, 2016
The Bills selected Lawson with the 19th overall pick to come in and be an immediate starter. After all, Lawson had a terrific college career at Clemson and he developed into a fearsome pass-rusher in his final season. He totaled 12.5 sacks and a nation-leading 24.5 tackles for loss for runner-up Clemson in the College Football Playoff, and he really tested out to be a plug-and-play guy.
Now, without Lawson the Bills are going to be thin on the defensive line. They really struggled to rush the passer last season with Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams, and with the latter departed, they really do not have a lot of depth on the defensive line. The team’s top options to replace Lawson are veterans Manny Lawson and IK Enemkpali, and both project to be mediocre pass-rushers in Rex Ryan’s hybrid defense.
Perhaps another young player will step up and take Lawson’s place, but if not the team may have to look to the free agent market to add some depth to the team. Greg Hardy is the biggest name of the defensive ends on the market, but I do not think the Bills will be interested in taking on a head case like him. A veteran like Jeremy Mincey would be a good fit to come in and start the first half of the season, so maybe the Bills will look into signing him.
Regardless of what the Bills do, they are going to have a tough time replacing Lawson. Lawson was supposed to be a major piece for the reworked Buffalo defense, but the team will have to wait a while before it can use him. It does not have a capable replacement for him and its pass rush will likely suffer as a result.