Rex Ryan wore a Clemson helmet to one of his press conferences last season.
Thursday night, he picked a guy who wore a Clemson helmet for three years to join his team.
Buffalo opened the 2016 NFL Draft by taking Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson with the 19th overall pick.
The pick comes with a red flag.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Lawson is going to need surgery to repair a right shoulder injury.
Schefter says Lawson can play through his rookie season and have the operation in the 2017 offseason. Whenever he does have the surgery, it’s expected to be a 4-6 month rehab.
The injury is something Lawson suffered in his freshman year in college. It never stopped him from playing, but doctors at the NFL Combine flagged it. He needed a second trip to Indianapolis to have the shoulder re-examined.
Lawson denies he’ll need surgery. “If I didn’t need surgery my freshman year, I don’t know why I will need surgery now,” he said.
“It’s nothing we’re really worried about,” Bills GM Doug Whaley said. “Or we wouldn’t have taken him.”
The Bills are thought to know Clemson players well because Rex’s son, Seth, is a wide receiver for the Tigers.
In fact, Seth Ryan and Lawson had classes together sharing the same major: Parks, recreation & tourism management.
“Buffalo is like home to me.” Lawson said. “I’m glad Buffalo picked me.”
Lawson sat behind stars like Vic Beasley at Clemson before getting his first and only chance to start in 2015. He finished with 12.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble for the national runner-up team.
Over his three year career with the Tigers, Lawson had 20 sacks.
“Very few times you can go into a draft and have a really big need and that guy standing out like a sore thumb is the guy you want and the guy that fills that need,” Whaley said. “We never thought he would drop to us at 19, and when it got closer and closer, we all said let’s keep our mouth shut.”
He’s a thickly built, versatile edge player who the Bills think can play the five-technique (in a three point stance at defensive end in a 3-4 defense) or as a stand up rusher on the edge.
Lawson is equally adept against the run and pass. He can occupy tight ends and handle double teams.
“I know coach is ecstatic about it just because of what he brings first day coming in off the bus, starting,” Whaley said. “(Rex’s) mind is going crazy on different ways he can use him.”
He is listed at 6-foot-3 and weighs 269 pounds. There’s a concern that he may be undersized to play on the defensive line in the NFL.
Whaley said Lawson immediately slots in as the starter on the opposite side from Jerry Hughes.
“He can set the edge from the outside. He can rush speed to power and that gives us two nice rushers off the edge,” Whaley said. “I think this a guy that has the versatility also when we go nickel and sub, he can go inside and use his quickness on those interior offensive linemen.”
Essentially, he’s the replacement for Mario Williams. Lawson doesn’t feel any pressure.
“I don’t feel a heavy responsibility,” Lawson said. “I’m just going to come in there every day and do my job.”
Lawson said his meeting with the Bills was the “best meeting he had” among all the NFL teams before the draft.
He’s named after the great NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. Lawson’s full name is also “Shaquille” and he got a chance to talk to his namesake during a radio show recently.
When Lawson was a junior in high school, his parents were in an accident with a drunk driver. His father was killed and his mother was in the hospital recovering for weeks.
At the scene, Lawson’s father told him to look after his brothers and sisters. It was one reason why he stayed close to his South Carolina home and went to Clemson after a year at the Virginia Military Academy.
“At the time I was 16. I knew what I had to do,” Lawson said. “My brothers were very young. They needed a father figure, so I was going to be that man. I didn’t care what I had to do and lead by example. Lead the right way for those guys.”
Now he’s the man for the Bills, coming to Buffalo as a first round NFL pick.