Last week, readers of Musket Fire voted on the position the Patriots should focus on most once free agency begins. The outside linebacker position won with 45% of the vote. Therefore, I’ll look at the top five outside linebacker prospects the Patriots could target. Today’s spotlight is on former San Francisco 49ers OLB Manny Lawson.
All of the previous free agent possibilities at outside linebacker (see below) I’ve looked at predominantly play defensive end. Today marks the first free agent that has consistently played OLB in a 3-4 defense, 49er OLB Manny Lawson. Lawson was drafted in the first round (22nd overall) in 2006 and successfully made the transition from college DE to 3-4 OLB in his first NFL season, and has been productive at the position. He has good size (6-5, 240) and holds up well against the run for a lanky guy. Likely his biggest strength is in coverage, which has been a weakness for the Patriots. Aside from the lack of a pass rush, coverage of short-to-intermediate passes between the numbers, usually the job of linebackers and safeties, has been atrocious. The Patriot defense allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.5% of passes between the numbers (29th in the NFL) and 7.8 yards per pass attempt on third down (30th in the NFL).
But what about Lawson helping the pass rush?
At first glance, Manny Lawson does not appear to be a very effective pass rusher. He sacked the QB only 2.5 times in 2010 and reached a career high with 6.5 in 2009. However, those numbers can be deceiving. Midway through the 2009 season, Lawson became primarily a first- and second-down player, limiting his pass rushing opportunities, and that continued through 2010. Also, Pro Football Focus ranked Lawson in the Top 10 for pass rushing productivity, which looks at more than just sacks. It also looks at pressures and disruptions, and analyzed it at the “per attempt” level rather than looking at every snap played. Recall that Bill Belichick has said in the past that QB sacks are an overrated stat, and that pressure is the big factor. It appears that Lawson can deliver in that category.
Lawson came in at #44 on Pete Prisco’s Top 50 free agents list, and is considered to be a guy that has worn out his welcome among 49er fans but is coveted by teams across the league. Mike Sando from ESPN’s NFL West blog called Lawson “underrated” and also passed along comments from Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc.
“Every time I bring his name up, San Francisco fans are like, ‘He is a bust, he is not good.’ But the rest of the league wants him. The best might be ahead of him. He is long, fluid. If he went to New England, he might all of a sudden be going to Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl. Not that the San Francisco defense is bad, but you might be careful what you wish for with him leaving town. I don’t think he has been a bust.”
There are a few pitfalls in what looks like a match made in heaven between Lawson and the Patriots. First, just going by the numbers, Lawson isn’t much better than what the Pats already have on the roster, though we’ve seen that numbers don’t tell the whole story. Also, and really the big pitfall, is if Williamson is right that Lawson is wanted by the rest of the NFL, his price tag could be too rich for the Patriots’ blood. The Pats will likely not get into any bidding wars this free agency period, and Lawson could price himself out of New England.
Manny Lawson by the numbers:
- 2010 Stats: 59 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6 passes defensed, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles
- Career Stats: 240 total tackles, 14.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed, 2 INTs, 6 forced fumbles
- Seasons with 16 Starts: 2 (2009 and 2010)
Previous Free Agent Spotlights: