For a couple of hours last week at Clemson’s indoor football facility, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd followed each other from station to station working out for NFL scouts, coaches and general managers during the Tigers pro day.
It seemed like an odd dynamic for the friends and book-end defensive ends, both projected as first-round picks in next month’s draft. A good showing by one in a certain drill might negatively impact the draft status of the other.
But after they finished last week and stood 5 yards apart talking to reporters outside the Tigers’ cavernous building, both claimed to be pushing each other to succeed – not pushing the other down draft boards.
“I ain’t fighting Shaq. We’re not the No. 1 defensive end right now,” Dodd said, referring to Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, the consensus top defensive end among draft experts. “There’s a lot of hype about me and (Lawson) fighting each other. But the goal is to be No. 1 and neither of us is the No. 1 defensive end.”
Lawson had a similar sentiment.
“It hasn’t been tough. Both of us, we’re going to come off the board ... probably somewhere in the first round,” Lawson said. “I don’t care if he goes first or I go first. I’m just going to be happy because we both were in the first round and we did something a lot of people didn’t do: Start one year and make it happen.”
The Panthers have shown interest in both of Clemson’s former edge rushers, who could be available when Carolina picks 30th during the first night of the draft.
Dodd is in Charlotte on Wednesday meeting with the Panthers, and Lawson said he’s also scheduled to visit the Panthers at a later date.
The two are set to join a growing list of Clemson pass rushers who have been high draft picks. Defensive end Vic Beasley was the most recent, going to Atlanta last year with the eighth overall selection.
‘We just feed off each other’
Beasley was part of a group of older, more established defensive ends at Clemson who blocked Dodd and Lawson on the depth chart. While Lawson played situationally in 2014, Dodd didn’t get his first real opportunity until last season.
He made the most of it, finishing with 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss – just a tick behind Lawson (12.5 sacks, 25.5 tackles for loss) in both categories. More impressively, Lawson and Dodd were 1-2 in the nation in tackles for loss.
“It’s crazy,” Lawson said last week. “That’s just great knowing you’ve got a partner beside you that’s going to help you along the way and open up your game and make it easy for you. And I can open up his game, make it easy for him. We just feed off each other.”
Dodd ended the season with a flourish, but Lawson battled through a knee injury. Dodd had four sacks in Clemson’s two playoff games, including three against Alabama in the national championship game.
Lawson, who sprained the MCL in his left knee in the semifinal win against Oklahoma, added two sacks in the 45-40 loss to the Crimson Tide.
“To go out there and play my last game as a Clemson Tiger with a bum knee, 50 percent, and (scouts) see I gave maximum effort, gave it my all and did the best I could do for my team,” Lawson said. “So I feel that showed a great sign of what teams are looking for, players that aren’t going to quit on you and players that are going to work hard even though they’re hurt.”
Besides doing defensive end drills during Clemson’s pro days, scouts had Lawson (6-3, 269) and Dodd (6-5, 277) run through linebacker drills to see if either might fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Dodd, who didn’t participate in all the combine drills after injuring his hamstring, looked good last week turning his hips and running.
“A lot of teams knew I could pass rush. But the question was could I move in space?” he said. “I wanted to show teams I could move and I got the job done.”
‘A great story’
Dodd will be 24 as a rookie after spending a year at prep school and then taking a medical redshirt season at Clemson, where he was not a big-name recruit. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney admires Dodd’s perseverance.
“Kevin is a great story. It just makes your heart feel good,” Swinney said. “And then the fact that he stayed in school so he could graduate this May (with a sociology degree). I think that speaks volumes of just how he thinks.”
Lawson is setting the bar for his first NFL season, mentioning a Super Bowl appearance and Defensive Rookie of the Year award in the same sentence last week.
Lawson plans to be in Chicago for the draft next month. Dodd also has been invited, which could lead to interesting theatre for the TV cameras trained on the two South Carolina natives and former teammates.
Beasley, the Falcons’ defensive end who attended Clemson’s pro day, said teams can’t go wrong with either guy.
“Everybody knows they’re great players,” Beasley said. “And whichever one you choose you’re getting a great athlete.”