DeMarcus Lawrence had back-to-back seasons of double-digit sacks in 2017 and 2018. That led to him signing a five-year, $105 million contract in April of 2019. Since that time, Lawrence has only racked up 11.5 sacks, and many have labeled him as an overrated and overpaid player because of it.
The mistake that a lot of people make when evaluating defensive ends is focusing solely on the number of sacks they get. Their responsibilities go beyond that. Things such as setting the edge and forcing running plays back inside as well as keeping constant pressure on the quarterback are also important. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence had a defensive grade of 91.4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was credited with five quarterback pressures, the most of any Cowboys defender.
Demarcus Lawrence vs. Buccaneers:
⭐91.4 PFF Grade
⭐5 total pressures pic.twitter.com/nlLyT6VINM
Although his sack numbers haven't been huge lately Lawrence has still posted a top-10 pass-rush win rate as an edge rusher since 2017 per PFF. Also, he's produced a 90.1 run-defense grade over that span as well making him one of only seven edge rushers to clear 90.0 since 2017.
Lawrence had two plays in particular that stood out against the Buccaneers in terms of his dominance in the run game. In the first video below, he sheds the block of one of the best young right tackles in the NFL, Tristan Wirfs. Lawrence resets his hands quickly and uses his power to toss Wirfs to the outside and make the tackle. The second play was one of the biggest for the Cowboy's defense in Week 1. Lawrence, once again, does a great job of shedding the block of Wirfs and punches the ball out of the hands of Robert Jones II. The fumble was recovered by Randy Gregory and set up an Amari Cooper touchdown.
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) September 10, 2021
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2021
The Buccaneers have a formidable running attack with Jones, Leonard Fournette, and Giovani Bernard. The latter didn't get any rushing attempts on Thursday night but the Cowboys held Jones and Fournette to 46 yards total on 13 carries, in large part to Lawrence's ability to set the edge and pursue plays down the line after shedding blocks.
It may not show up in the stat sheet but Lawrence makes so many plays for his teammates. He's the Cowboy's best defender and the most important player on their defensive front seven.