ATLANTA — It’s not always easy to decipher the value of a defensive linemen based on statistics alone. Often, particularly in a 3-4 scheme, their job is to do the dirty work up front and allow the linebackers behind them to make plays unabated to the football.
Sometimes the best way to judge a player’s value is to gauge how a unit plays when he’s on the field compared to when he’s not.
Using this method, a decent case can be made that Rashard Lawrence was one of, if not the most valuable player on LSU’s defense in 2017.
The defensive end missed three games in September due to an ankle injury, including a humiliating 37-7 rout at Mississippi State and the now infamous 24-21 upset against Troy.
LSU went 6-1 down the stretch and played far sturdier defense once Lawrence returned to the lineup, albeit still limited by nagging injuries to both ankles. He finished his sophomore season with 32 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries to his credit.
Now here’s the question that has people around the program excited for 2018: how good can Lawrence be now that his lower extremities are fully healed?
“It’s going to be a lot different, and I’m just excited,” Lawrence smiled Monday as LSU took its turn at SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “The training staff did a great job of getting me back to where I need to be, so just being healthy, it’s going to be a great Rashard Lawrence.”
LSU is expected to boast a far deeper defensive front around its fully-healthy end, too. Lawrence played practically every down on those swollen ankles last season due to a lack of depth.
Having Breiden Fehoko and Tyler Shelvin eligible to go along with an infusion of young talent should allow LSU to rotate enough to keep Lawrence fresh and explosive for crunch time.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron thinks the combination of those factors should allow Lawrence to show the game-breaking ability that made him a prized five-star recruit when the Tigers signed him out of Neville High.
“He’s a difference maker obviously,” Orgeron said. “He’s a leader. He leads by example. He plays with great technique. Rashard plays that four technique, talk to (former LSU defensive line coach Pete Jenkins), excellent. Best I’ve ever seen.
“We feel we’re going to put him in some three technique, let him get up the field and be more disruptive and be even more of a dominant player this year.”
Lawrence proved himself to a difference maker despite playing on two bad ankles last season. Now healthy, LSU thinks the junior can be a play maker, too.