49ers OLB Manny Lawson will be hitting some form of free agency this eventual offseason, with a chance that it might be unrestricted free agency. The 49ers tendered Lawson back in March, which means if he ends up being a restricted free agent, the 49ers either can get him back at a reasonable one year deal, or potentially let him walk with a draft pick coming back to them.
When it comes to Lawson, I find myself bouncing back and forth one what the 49ers should do and will do. If he hits unrestricted free agency, I think I'd be fairly surprised to see him back in San Francisco in 2011. While he hasn't had monster sack totals, he does enough things that I think a team out there will overpay for him. He can pressure the quarterback, he can make open field tackles, and he can drop back in coverage with a lot of success.
I was poking around Pro Football Focus' counting stats (as opposed to the statistical formulas they've developed) and if there numbers are accurate, Lawson quietly put together some impressive numbers as a pass rusher. According to their stats, Lawson finished with 8 QB hits and 23 QB pressures. His eight hits ranks ninth among 3-4 OLBs and his 23 pressures rank 13th. Of course, he also finished with a mere 2.5 sacks so that should certainly be taking into consideration.
I bring all this up because of some analysis provided by PFF. They put together a look at pass rushing edge rushers in 2010 and also from 2008 to 2010. Manny Lawson is eighth on the list behind John Abraham and ahead of Cameron Wake. Parys Haralson is 19th on the list behind Clay Mathews and ahead of Matt Roth.
In case you overlooked that, yes Clay Mathews was ranked 18th on PFF's list of the most productive edge rushers. He of 17 sacks, 12 hits and 45 pressures showed up 10 spots below Manny Lawson primarily due to the fact that he was utilized over 2 1/2 times as frequently in pass rush situations. Matthews does show up 12th over the last three years, while Lawson does not appear on that list.
As with a lot of these types of stats, it does need to be taken with some grain of salt. I believe Lawson brings some serious talent to the table, particularly when it comes to dropping back in coverage. The problem for him has been a certain level of consistency. If he could be a bit more consistent, I'd have to imagine the 49ers would have involved him in the pass rush more frequently than 217 times.
Of course, how much of the blame falls on Greg Manusky? If the team elected to bring back Manny Lawson, could Vic Fangio's blitzing schemes improve Lawson's numbers? Or is he doomed to be an underachiever when it comes to notching the big sack totals? 2009 was his best year with the 49ers as he notched 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 51 tackles. Where on the spectrum does the talent of Manny Lawson fall? What would allow him to find greater success in the NFL?