"...Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." -King Henry IV, King Henry IV, 3.1.31
College football, as distinctly American as it is, does not play by American rules. America is a Democratic Republic. A nation that gives power to its citizens to elect its governmental officials (or at least the illusion of said process). College football is an oligarchy. Oligarchs are powerful, tyrannical. They are elitist and oppressive. Screw the people; give me power baby.
In a very direct way, the power of the oligarchs rests in their recruiting laurels. Those who have the talent, have the power. There's proven correlation to on-field performance, and what succeeds on-field performance is typically bucket loads of cash that results in multi-million dollar facilities, which only further sustains the cycle.
Recruiting is serious business and being the crown jewel of a signing class brings even greater expectations. In 2016, that player is Rashard Lawrence.
How Did We Get Here?
LSU's pursuit of Rashard Lawrence began early, when the Tigers extended an offer in March of 2014, the spring of Lawrence's sophomore season. That fall, Lawrence would dominate in the Dome helping Neville claim a State Title. 247 listed him as the best player in the Dome that weekend, though at the time he was still thought to be an inferior prospect to eventual signing mate Edwin Alexander. That summer, the national offers began to flow. First from Texas Tech, then Oregon, Alabama, USC, Miami.
From the jump, most expected this to be an LSU/Alabama recruiting battle. Alabama emphasized Lawrence in much the same way that LSU did. When LSU hired Ed Orgeron and the recruiting dead period ended, Orgeron made it first priority to recruit Lawrence, though he was still a full signing class away. The diligence continued through the fall of his Senior season, where Lawrence lead Neville to yet another State Title. A new contender emerged in Ohio State. Lawrence bonded with the Buckeyes DL coach Larry Johnson Sr., an elite recruiter in his own right. Down the home stretch of the recruiting cycle, Alabama faded to the back while Ohio State and LSU sprinted to the finish.
Yet, by Lawrence's January 22nd announcement, any luster from Columbus had worn off. Lawrence officially visited LSU the weekend before and specifically mentioned having lengthy discussions with new LSU Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda, which assured him of his final decision.
What Can He Do?
Short Shuffle: 4.87
Vertical Leap: 27.2"
Powerball Toss: 40.5"
The only thing that jumps here in terms of athletic tests is the 40-inch powerball toss. Great skill to have, particularly as an attacking DL like himself. Lawrence could in high school just being the biggest, baddest man on the field. But he'll quickly learn that if you don't come with the hands in college, you won't make a difference. 40.5 shows advanced strength for a young guy.
At 6'3", 305, he's built a bit like Dorsey, who most fans are already in a hurry to compare him.
Strengths: Explosion, Hand Use, Quickness, Hustle
Let's be frank about what Rashard Lawrence is and what he is not. If there are intentions of bringing Lawrence in to man the nose and eat-up blockers it would be a waste of his immense athletic tools. Lawrence has an elite first step. 1:44 watch him blow past the OL like they are stuck in mud
Plenty of examples, but it's just nice to see a young DL using his hands to create separation.:31is a nice job of him winning with his hands and dispensing of the OL. He's got a nice club move. He even wins in his bull rushes, getting his hands inside and driving the OL into the QB starting at 1:20. Check 4:20 where he uses his hands, then rips under.
Quickness: Watch him move around at :20. Does that look like a DT to you? How about 3:47? Your run of the mill DT move like that? No? No? Didn't think so.
Hustle: Watch 4:46 and you'll see a guy with good hustle. Watch 4:56 and you'll begin to question the boundaries of space and time.
Anchoring: One of my favorite guys to read is Jamie Uyeyama, who runs his own evaluation site and has contributions all across the web. Here's his scouting report on Rashard Lawrence. I will respectfully disagree with his report here:
Lawrence is a true nose guard that can play the zero or the one technique in just about any scheme. He’s even athletic enough to be kicked out a bit wider, but the nose is his best fit.
I don't disagree that Lawrence could be these things, so much as why waste all that explosion? When I think of a dominant one-tech, I think of a guy like Haloti Ngata. Ngata was a bit of a freak of nature, but on the football field he was most impactful eating up blocks and letting others make hell happen. He wasn't racking up sacks and TFLs. Lawrence I see in entirely different light. Lawrence is Nick Fairley in 2010. He's more Geno Atkins or Aaron Donald than Haloti Ngata.
Back to anchoring, it's one area where Lawrence could stand to improve. I get the impression he will win in the running game with quicks, penetration and hustle, rather than holding his gap, but if he wants to be a fully rounded DT, it's the area where he needs to grow.
Dave Aranda's arrival is really a game changer. Sure, Orgeron is retained, and he surely has an idea of roughly what his rotation should look like in 2016. But, with Aranda comes a new scheme and a fresh set of ideas. Those can be game changing variables. It wouldn't be the first, and won't be the last, time a player as fit more seamlessly into one coach's scheme than another.
All of this is a long way of saying that Rashard Lawrence is a guy that would have had to fight through a depth chart of Davon Godchaux and Christian Lacouture as starters, as well as Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore as key backups, just to find playing time. Not insurmountable, but a bit of a steeper climb in the old system.
We don't yet know how Aranda will elect to deploy his DL talent. Players like Arden Key and Lewis Neal look to be moving to OLB. The only remaining player to make any significant impact is Tashawn Bower. That means we have 5 DL for 3 spots. In other words, opportunity. In the old system, LSU would be more bound to player types. Sure, Lawrence is probably quick and athletic enough to play on the edge in a pinch, but it's not the best use of his skills to have him as an edge rusher. Where he really will be dynamite is as interior rusher. He's more of a true 3-technique but may be deployed like a 5 or 6 tech based on need an opportunity.
Let's further keep in mind that Aranda likes to get inventive with his fronts. Though he keeps his concepts pretty simple, he's been known to deploy two or no down line men. Lawrence is the perfect type of athlete to take advantage of a unique package like this due to his quickness and explosion. You don't see many 300-pound athletes as nimble as Lawrence in open space.
It's certainly encouraging when you see tweets like this:
man.. the extra work that @_fournette , @dgodch1 , and @Rashard_99 puttin' in is intense!!!— Ed. (@_catchmeeatin) June 15, 2016
Don't know who that is, but to mention Lawrence in the breath of two players LSU is counting on to be team leaders speaks to his character and work ethic. Which is really what makes Lawrence a truly elite prospect. If you comb the web, you can read plenty about how much Lawrence improved over the course of his HS career. Mind you, LSU offered him as a sophomore before he played a down of football as an upperclassman. Lawrence isn't a gifted athlete that thinks he can show up and be great. He works for it. He earns it. And he proves it again and again.
Expect big things.
High End: All-American, Future 1st Round Draft Pick
Low End: All-Conference contributor, Future NFL Draft Pick
Realistic: Multi-year Starter