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Thread: Sturm: Why Is Demarcus Lawrence So Under-appreciated By His Own Fanbase?

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    One-armed Knife Sharpener Iamtdg's Avatar
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    Sturm: Why Is Demarcus Lawrence So Under-appreciated By His Own Fanbase?

    Why Is Demarcus Lawrence So Under-appreciated By His Own Fanbase?





    By Bob Sturm 7h ago


    If there is one consistent theme in 20 years of covering the Cowboys, it has been the Dallas Cowboys fanbase overflowing with angst over their team's annual letdowns. They want a consistent league power again and will accept nothing less.

    The wait continues.

    If there is another consistency in those two decades, it has been the fanbase's tendency to feed a lot of that angst by undercutting their own talent. I believe this a coping mechanism that rationalizes the disappointment of the big picture by suggesting nothing is good enough.

    This is why it isn't hard to find strong Cowboys fans who take constant shots at the very best Cowboys for not winning trophies. Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Jason Witten. Nobody is safe. They all take their turns as being the piñatas of the moment.

    It has been this way as long as I have written about this team. Of course, Tony Romo was blamed for not being Troy Aikman or Roger Staubach. Maybe my favorite is DeMarcus Ware. To this day, you can walk into a room with ten Cowboys fans and find three or four who are convinced that he wasn't anything great. I am serious. I have spent more columns than you can imagine over the years arguing with diehards about whether all of his sacks were meaningless and stat-padding.

    But we aren't here to talk about any of them today. We are on to the next one. The next player who has been rightfully paid because he has proven himself at the highest level of his sport. Demarcus Lawrence has been given the franchise tag. In my estimation, he has earned his 2018 annual income of over $17 million by being one of the biggest defensive monsters the NFL had to offer in 2017. Soon, he will likely sign a much bigger deal that offers both sides some incentives and gets him under contract for 4-5 years, but for now, we will table the question of the extension for now.

    The responses have been somewhat predictable: The team overpaid! He is unproven before 2017! You can't believe that he is getting so much money! How did the Cowboys fall for a player finally showing something in a contract year? Isn't it ridiculous that he timed his best season for when there was money at stake?

    Hey, if DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were going to take shots from their own fans, you didn't think Demarcus Lawrence would be universally agreed upon, did you?
    It is my intent today to look carefully at all 4 years of Lawrence, from a second-round prospect to the grown (and extremely well-paid) man he is today. Let's find out what he has accomplished, what a fair contract would be moving forward, and where he stands in his peer group by going through his career, year by year:

    2014 – Age 22 – 7 games – 0 starts – 217 snaps – 0 sacks, 2 TFL – 2 splash plays

    Lawrence was selected at the top of the second round of the 2014 draft when the Cowboys were willing to trade their second round (#47) and third round (#78) picks to Washington for #34. The trade meant that he was their only pick between Zack Martin #16 and Anthony Hitchens at #119. The draft certainly had a few fantastic “Defensive Front” game-wreckers, but Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, and Aaron Donald were all were gone before the Cowboys picked, so Lawrence was clearly the best chance at sacks once the Cowboys felt Dee Ford from Auburn was not a scheme fit.

    Lawrence was a very small prospect. He weighed around 244 his final year at Boise before hitting 251 at the Combine (no doubt realizing he had to look bigger). Evaluating him before the draft was tricky because, like Dee Ford, the main question was whether he was a “tweener” or had a real position as either a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB. Here is a portion of the piece I did on him that spring:

    …he ran a speed at the combine in his quickness and agility drills that is problematic for his position and size. 4.80 with 1.68 splits is not what we are looking for from a guy who is another ideal edge rusher in the 3-4 as a standup guy.

    The good news is that he plays faster than his time is on the watch. If you pop in one of his games from last fall, you will see a very explosive edge rusher who has LB quickness and is able to cause plenty of problems from a rushing standpoint, and different than Marcus Smith, he is taking on and defeating tackles routinely.

    Lawrence has a smaller body of work, as he was a community college guy before he got to Boise and was also a guy who was suspended 3 times for different violations of team rules in just 2 seasons which is really quite a pace.

    But, when you look at him closely, you see a Marinelli motor and a guy who has some real skills off the corner that cause you to see what the Cowboys clearly see in him. The question is how far up the charts will he go.



    I couldn't get past the body and the red flags. Most sources suggested the flags at Boise were the type that you smoke, which you may be aware, isn't often a deal breaker. He was labeled by many as “boom or bust”.

    I finished the profile with this:

    If they have decided that guys who look like 3-4 outside linebackers are what they want to run at weak side defensive end to carry the torch in the post-DeMarcus Ware era, then guys like this make more sense. He seems really undersized, but really interesting to go get sacks. This type of guy is interesting to me at #47, but it is highly likely he is gone before that.


    Today he plays at just under 270 (we think). At the time I described him as a tiny edge OLB-type, but he is now anything but that. Perhaps this is a good example of not being swayed by the playing weight of a 21-year old. Get him to the NFL and spend a few years in the NFL weight room, and presto! He is 270 and a beast.

    The Cowboys spent a lot, making a heavy bet on him and then in that Jerry Jones way, listed him as the starter at RDE upon arrival in Oxnard at camp in 2014 on their first depth chart. He would start immediately in the spot where DeMarcus Ware was in 2013. That DeMarcus was released on March 11, 2014 (signed the next day in Denver) and this Demarcus was drafted on May 9, 2014, to replace him.

    Then, as fate would have it, he broke his foot in his first week at camp. Tyron Smith “slammed him” in individual drills and his broken 5th metatarsal bone which put him out for all of August, September, and October of a rookie season where he was supposed to walk in and start. This, of course, didn't help the cynicism about his career and the Cowboys' ability to identify talent at a time where cynicism is the default setting for many.

    The Cowboys worked him into the lineup as a rookie very slowly, starting with Week 9 against Arizona (the Brandon Weeden start), because Jeremy Mincey was filling in admirably in his stead at RDE. Lawrence made his first play behind the line of scrimmage in the next game in London against Jacksonville.



    As you can see, it wasn't much of a “TFL” – he fell on the guard who recovered the fumble, but it still counted. He would finish 2014 with nearly no statistical impact – 0 sacks, 2 TFLs, and a rather underwhelming campaign.

    Until… He saved it in the playoffs.

    You certainly remember his moment of redemption against Detroit. He had a chance to end the Lions' playoff hopes by falling on a fumble. When he didn't, it looked like the talented rookie may wear the goat horns. Instead, he became the hero by grabbing a 4th down strip-sack and recovery to end the game and Matthew Stafford's homecoming dream.

    He wasn't done. The next week, in a game remembered for the Dez catch and the inability to chase down a crippled Aaron Rodgers, Lawrence did get him once. So, two sacks in two playoff games ended 2014 with a real sense of optimism for where Lawrence may be in 2015!

    2015 – Age 23 – 16 games – 13 starts – 698 snaps – 8 sacks, 14 TFL – 25.5 splash plays

    The Cowboys wanted to capitalize on a brilliant 2014 that fell just short by really making the Defensive Line a priority. After finishing 28th in sacks in 2014, they were fired up about Lawrence being fit after what amounted to almost a “red shirt” year, then signing the controversial Greg Hardy to play RDE and even drafting the sliding Randy Gregory. If these three men couldn't solve the sacks issue, who could? Hardy was paid $13m for his time in 2015, which had this writer wondering why DeMarcus Ware was playing so well in Denver for effectively the same cash.

    Lawrence was shifted to LDE (he played 93% of his snaps on the left) to accommodate Hardy and the returning Mincey. Of course, this meant that Lawrence would have to demonstrate that he could stand up to the run game, which is something he did brilliantly while leading the team in sacks. His first dominant performance was in Week 4 against the Saints, but he repeated it in Tampa Bay, at Washington, and completely destroyed the right side of the New York Jets OL in Week 15. That was the first year where you clearly saw that Lawrence was not just a pass rusher with a relentless motor. He battled against the run as well as just about any DE that has come through here in ages. Pro Football Focus called Lawrence the 9th best DE in the NFL that year (all-around) and he led the Cowboys in Sacks, Tackles For Loss, Stuffed Runs, and Splash Plays.

    This part is important: If anyone claims that Demarcus Lawrence is a 1-year wonder in 2017, they clearly stopped watching 2015 when Tony Romo was hurt in Week 2. Lawrence was not only good in 2015 but for a 1st-year starter on a defense dealing with suspensions to Hardy and Rolando McClain, he was great. He demonstrated play after play and game after game that his motor never stops running. His backside pursuit of run plays is right out of a coaching handbook. He never stops chasing.

    Unfortunately, it took a bit of a toll. He played with some pain in his back. As they usually will, the Cowboys first told us his procedure after the season was no big deal. Then, a month later, we heard Stephen Jones change the tone: “We were somewhat surprised that it was what it turned out to be. We thought it might be something a little less significant, but it’s nothing that we have concerns about going forward.”

    That is good news. The not-great news came on April 20, 2016, when he was suspended for the first 4 games of the season with what sources would indicate to ESPN were amphetamines. What type was open for debate and this information is never easy to confirm, but we do know that it isn't the type of PED that would make you question his performance and we also know this means he was already in the program going back to those “red flags” in Boise (which most likely are smoked). He appealed his suspension but it stuck at 4 games.

    2016 – Age 24 – 9 games – 3 starts – 327 snaps – 1 sacks, 3 TFL – 10 splash plays

    So Lawrence had back surgery, was suspended for four games, experienced more back issues, and was scratched the final 3 games of the regular season. 2016 was never very good for Lawrence – which is likely where the reputation with the fan base really got cooking. Also, the idea that he was yet another DL guy who had his name on the suspension list when it seemed contagious didn't help, either.

    Because Hardy and Gregory were both out back of the picture, the team moved him back over to RDE in 2016 (with Benson Mayowa sharing responsibilities) and had Tyrone Crawford and Jack Crawford mainly on LDE.

    Lawrence returned after the suspension (experiencing some back issues early) and it took a while to get going. He had one truly dominant performance in 2016 – the trip to Pittsburgh – where the defense was unable to get very many stops but Lawrence destroyed everything in his path. If ever you needed an idea of what Lawrence was capable of, pop on that tape and enjoy.

    Despite his pain issues and the idea that he was unable to play much in December, he gave it a go in the playoff game against Green Bay and made a play that many thought might have clinched the game – until Green Bay responded (like they always seem to against Dallas) and lived to advance.

    Lawrence would again need surgery and his long-term prospects turned ominous. Ending consecutive seasons with back surgeries is never a good sign.
    Which led to this year:

    2017 – Age 25 – 16 games – 16 starts – 701 snaps – 14.5 sacks, 14 TFL – 39 splash plays

    No Cowboys defender this decade has put together a season better than Lawrence's 2017 campaign. The 2011 season of DeMarcus Ware is comparable, but not superior. He wrecked game after game for almost the entirety of the season – until offenses keyed carefully on him, determined to not let him get home.

    We can certainly debate which game was his very best – the Monday night at Arizona is probably my vote – but his performance at Denver was great, the opener against the Giants, the Rams game, both Eagles games, and both destructions of Washington. He played in all 16 games and was credited with being in on at least one splash play in every single game – something we have never seen before.

    Pro Football Focus again praised his work by suggesting that only Cam Jordan (New Orleans) and Calais Campbell (Jacksonville) had a more productive season as a complete DE. Only Joey Bosa was seen as a better pass rusher in the entire league. Only Jordan, Campbell, and Jerry Hughes were better against the run. Even with 14.5 sacks, he also was #11 in QB hits, and #2 in QB hurries with 52.

    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  2. #2
    Senior Member ravidubey's Avatar
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    His redemption play vs Detroit completely changed my mind about him.

    I went from not being able stand an undersized miscast player who had just majorly fucked up to respecting the Hell out of an all-time great defensive play that demonstrated huge courage and character.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Chocolate Lab's Avatar
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    "All-time great" defensive play?
    2014=2009, 2015=2010?

    The Garrett Song

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    Senior Member ravidubey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chocolate Lab View Post
    "All-time great" defensive play?
    People don't realize how close we were to maybe losing that game. Detroit's defense was as tough as any in the conference, maybe the league. Ours wasn't.

    That play was awesome.

    In Cowboys history, not many defensive players put playoff games away on a single play. If you can recall one, what decade was it?

  5. #5
    Senior Member DLK150's Avatar
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    He's under appreciated by me because one really good year doesn't make him a star considering the times he's screwed up or been dinged up. I'm not just sold on the guy as an elite player.

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