2017 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch: Jan. 2 Bowl Games

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2017 NFL Draft Carl Lawson
Nov 5, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports /

Sugar Bowl: Carl Lawson (DE – Auburn)

After struggling through injuries, Carl Lawson finally realized his potential in 2016. He recorded a team-high nine sacks this year and amassed an impressive 24 quarterback hurries. The Sugar Bowl may be Lawson’s last collegiate game as he is a potential first-round pick if he declares for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Auburn’s opponent in the Sugar Bowl is Oklahoma. The Sooners struggled early in the season, but finished the season with nine straight wins. A big reason why Oklahoma was able to turn their season around was the play of the offensive line. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked eight times in the first three games of the season as the Sooners got off to a 1-2 start. In the final nine games, he was sacked a total of just 10 times. The 18 times Mayfield was sacked this season was far less than the 39 times he was sacked a year ago. If Auburn wants to win this game, pressuring Mayfield is priority number one.

There’s no other player on the Auburn roster who can pressure quarterbacks as well as Lawson. A lot will be riding on his shoulders in this one as the premier pass rusher. As seen in the play below against Deshaun Watson and Clemson, sacks aren’t the only way for a pass rusher to impact the game. Lawson’s quick pressure forces Watson to throw the ball before he’s ready, resulting in an interception.

Oklahoma has excelled this season throwing the ball deep to Dede Westbrook. If Auburn wants to prevent the big play, it will be up to Lawson to disrupt the timing of those passes. Whether he records a sack or not, watch to see how often Lawson is able to create pressure and force Mayfield into throwing the ball before he’s ready.