Over the last couple of years as DeMarcus Lawrence first became eligible to negotiate his first long-term contract, a debate raged of his worthiness to be paid one of the top contracts in the NFL among edge players (3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends).
Many felt that he wasn't on the same level as Khalil Mack or Von Miller as a pass rusher and therefore shouldn't get paid accordingly. There point was that Lawrence didn't rack up the sack numbers that those others have and that's true, but pass rushing effectiveness isn't merely based on sack totals, though they matter.
Well, according to Pro Football Focus' grading scale, only one player has been a better pass rusher since the start of 2017 than DeMarcus Lawrence. Since 2017, only Von Miller has a better passing rushing grade than DeMarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence is one of the more disruptive players in the NFL and the best player on the Dallas Cowboys defense. Here's what Anthony Treash from Pro Football Focus had to say about DeMarcus Lawrence.
“During the 2018 regular season, Lawrence put up an 89.5 overall grade (seventh), an 84.4 pass-rush grade (ninth), 44 defensive stops (fourth) and 63 total pressures (15th). And that astonishing two-year stretch has quite rightly catapulted him into the conversation for the NFL's best young pass-rusher. Since 2017, Lawrence's 91.4 pass-rush grade is the second-highest among edge defenders, trailing only Von Miller. Moreover, his 19.4% pass-rush win rate and 15.5% pressure rate in that timespan rank sixth and fifth among his position group, respectively.”
Anthony Treash – Pro Football Focus
I've had several debates with folks who don't want to include DeMarcus Lawrence in the same tier of player as Khalil Mack or Von Miller, but he's right there with those guys.
The $21 million annual average salary that DeMarcus Lawrence signed for his the second largest per year contract among edge rushers. Only Khalil Mack is making more on a per year basis than Lawrence. In total guarantees, Lawrence sits only behind Mack and Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller.
Over the last two years, Lawrence has also been one of the best run defenders in the NFL. In 2018, among players with at least 202 run snaps, DeMarcus Lawrence finished second only to Calais Campbell in run stop percentage per Pro Football Focus. Lawrence made a run stop on 12.3% of his run snaps and was fourth in total stops.
Moving into 2019, Lawrence will be coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, but hopefully will be ready for the start of the season. Despite whatever numbers he finishes with at the end of the season, it won't be a full reflection of the impact he has on opposing offenses. Teams have to account for him on every play. The double teams he draws opens up opportunities for the rest of the defensive line and for blitzing players on rush downs. The effectiveness of which Lawrence plays the run makes it very difficult for teams to run wide to his side.
When the Dallas Cowboys moved up in the draft to select DeMarcus Lawrence, they had to wait several years for that risk to pay off. Now with Lawrence locked up for the next four years, the Cowboys will get the benefit of having one of the best pass rushers in the league through his prime years.
DeMarcus Lawrence's presence will keep the Dallas Cowboys defense as one of the best in the NFL for the next several years. And everyone with a star on his helmet will benefit greatly.