I've grown tired of reading about Trevor Laws' height. It's remarkable, spellbinding even, that source after source holds up Laws' height as proof-positive that his potential is minimal or his athleticism is suspect. Laws is 6' 1/2", Glenn Dorsey 6' 1 ¼", Sedric Ellis 6 '1/4" (yes, shorter), all essentially the same height. Not ideal, sure, but the same height as many successful defensive tackles: Casey Hampton, Vince Wilfork, Warren Sapp, Amobi Okoye and Brandon Mebane. I found those with minimal research, and all are Pro Bowlers, Pro Bowl caliber or will be. So let's put that bit of prejudice to rest, if Laws succeeds or fails it will not be because of his height.
So what is wrong with Laws' "athleticism"? He beat Ellis at every standardized Combine drill minus the broad jump. Ellis bested Laws by 2 inches. Bench: Laws, 35, Ellis, 34. 40 (pfft..) Laws, 5.09, Ellis, 5.26. Vert--before I run this into the extreme, Laws posted the best 20 Yard Shuttle (4.49) and 3 Cone Drill (7.37) of any defensive tackle, supposed tests of agility. The point is, the man was tested and he bested his rivals again and again.
That's irrelevant, you say, a defensive tackle must be athletic in a short space, must be an athletic grappler, not a track star or workout warrior. Laws was a 3 time All-America wrestler in high school, with a 139-5 record. He was once rated as the #1 heavyweight in the nation. Watch him in the trenches and open eyes will see: The guy understands leverage, wins at the point of attack and is a fierce and relentless tackler. If exceptional performance at the Combine plus a venerated wrestling career doesn't prove Laws is a capable athlete--
Oh! All that matters is what a player brings to the field, huh? You want to twist that argument back at me. Well, let's see. Laws recorded 112 tackles. One might think that's benefit the Patrick Willis bounce, but defense was Notre Dame's strongest unit. Notre Dame's offense ranked 113th among 119 teams, its defense ranked 48th. The second leading tackler, Joe Brockington, was a linebacker, not a corner or safety (again, see San Francisco). Further, Notre Dame faced 892 plays by opposing offenses, versus 915 for LSU and 875 for USC. Comparable. The overall talent of Notre Dame's defense was a far sight from LSU's or USC's, so Laws had to do more with less help, but he wasn't piling on cheap tackles on a broken defense that needed someone to stop the ball carrier. On a team that rarely held a lead, Laws recorded 4 sacks and 7 quarterback pressures. Remember, pressures and sacks are linked, and one can become another by no fault or feat of the player. That still might not look impressive considering Ellis' 8.5 sacks (1 pressure) or Dorsey's 7 (4), but, again, context matters.
If we define "3rd and Long" as any 3rd down where the opponent is 7 or more yards from converting the first or a touchdown, and "garbage time" as any period in the 4th quarter where the opponent is up by 2 or more touchdowns, and therefore has no pressing need to convert the first on "3rd and Long", then we can get a clearer idea of how many primed opportunities each tackle had to convert a sack.
Opponents' 3rd and Long
Notre Dame: 81
Laws tallied 4 sacks on a team with only 18 total. LSU, 37. USC, 45. Laws was by far the best player on a decent defense without a ton of talent. Give Notre Dame a top secondary, closer games against quarterbacks with a reason to hold onto the ball, and you can be sure some of those pressures become sacks. It's hard to know in isolation how his performance compares in isolation to the performances of Dorsey and Ellis, but when one adds context, at the very least the gap is reduced.
So, if we can believe that Laws is a special talent who had a monster season at a foundering superpower, what more do we need to know to see him as a first rounder? Well, let's examine downside for a second. I may be one of the only people who puts a lot of stock in downside. Prospects are always talked up for their upside, Kentwan Balmer's size/speed potential, for instance, but how about how likely that player is to actually reach that potential. It's not as if that's unknowable. We may never land on a certainty, but we can at least have an idea. So what matters to downside?
Health. Laws started 37 consecutive games at Notre Dame. He sat out his freshman season with an injury, an injury I can't find any information about. If you can, I appreciate the help. It's reasonable, though, that given 4 years of separation whatever it was is no longer something to worry about. So his health record is nearly spotless. But since injury is often unpredictable, anyway, how about something a little more consistent.
Dedication and Self Control. As first scientifically examined in Walter Mischell's Marshmallow Experiment, and later in numerous other studies, the ability to control one's self is one of the stronger indications of future success. Those who can delay gratification, dedicate themselves to something long term, are more successful in all fields. It certainly isn't a foreign concept in athletics. Great athletes are great practicers. The workout routines of Jerry Rice and Walter Jones are legendary. Whereas exceptional talents like Ryan Leaf, Michael Vick, Bryan Bosworth (do I even need to make this list?) fizzled, faded or burned out. In the weeks leading up to the Combine, Laws reinvented himself. He went to bed at 8:30, worked out 6 days a week and added 30 pounds of lean muscle. He stopped his life so that he could succeed.
Laws is a special athlete who dominated the league his senior season. Knowing that scouts have blinders for short guys on 3 and 9 teams, Laws dedicated his life to becoming a better prospect and did. He excelled at the Senior Bowl, threw down at the combine both at standardized and position specific drills. Laws plays one of Football's marquee positions: 3-Tech Tackle. For a Seahawks team that relies on disruptive penetration or pressure, none more essential than interior pressure, to make its defense work, 3-tech is perhaps the marquee position. He has limited downside, untold upside, fits Seattle's need and scheme, and is a pretty cool guy, too. I mean, his favorite band is Modest Mouse! Laws will contribute immediately, a huge plus for a team with a 1-3 year championship window (maybe). He won't be around for Seattle's second pick. So, I ask you, what's wrong with making Trevor Laws a Hawk?
Image Courtesy: navy.scout.com