All eyes in the Arizona Cardinals training camp jet to the linebacker positions.
Who replaces Chandler Jones on the edge? Can Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons hold it down at inside backer?
But there is a rotation to determine at the interior of the defensive line as well. While J.J. Watt and Zach Allen figure to get plenty of snaps at end, the defensive tackle group has room for someone — anyone — to step up.
For ESPN, Rivers McCown writes that third-year pro Rashard Lawrence is a good bet to step up as “a pure run-stuffing, run-downs-only interior lineman.” Lawrence is ranked No. 21 on McCown’s list of the top 25 NFL prospects who could break out in 2022.
We don’t have him high up on this list because the value of a run-only defender is lacking and there’s not much question that Lawrence isn’t a pass-rusher at this point. But the Cardinals have shed a lot of defensive interior guys this offseason and Lawrence should benefit as a likely rotation piece alongside Leki Fotu and Zach Allen on the inside. Lawrence’s gap-soundness on first and second down can help the Cardinals get to those aggressive blitz schemes on third down.
Nose tackle appears wide open at this point. Veteran leader Corey Peters remains a free agent, and the Cardinals’ signings of defensive tackles Christian Ringo nad Antwaun Woods during the first week of training camp indicated there could a push for the defensive staff to unearth reliable players at that spot.
They join veteran Kingsley Keke, Fotu and Lawrence as potential contributors.
Fotu and Lawrence were both fourth-round picks by Arizona in 2020, and while the former has the more high-potential athletic profile, Lawrence has shown flashes he can produce as a gap-filler when he’s been healthy. Writes McCown:
Lawrence had 6.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons at LSU, but he wasn’t considered by many to be a Day 2 prospect. He was a two-gapper with enough natural quickness to find his way into backfields occasionally.
In his second year in the desert, Lawrence ascended to 219 defensive snaps. He had nine run stops during that time, and his stop rate of 82% was second highest among Arizona’s interior linemen.
Lawrence posted 11 tackles with 3.5 stuffs last season.
In 104 run snaps and 111 passing plays (by Pro Football Focus’ count), he indeed graded better as a run-stopper. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence posted three of his best overall games by defensive grade in the final four weeks of the regular season as he came on following an absence due to a calf injury from Weeks 7-13.