The Buffalo Bills nailed a huge need with their first-round pick, 19th overall, in the NFL Draft Thursday night by selecting Clemson pass-rushing terror Shaq Lawson.
"Very few times that you can go into a draft and have a really big need and that guy there standing out like a sore thumb is the guy you want and the guy that fills that need," General Manager Doug Whaley said. "We're extremely excited to have Shaq Lawson. We never thought he'd drop to us at 19.
"... We never thought we'd even have the chance to sniff the guy."
With the Bills having parted ways with Mario Williams right after last season, they were expected to use their top choice on a defensive lineman or outside linebacker. Whaley said Lawson would immediately start at outside linebacker opposite Jerry Hughes.
"It's a blessing," said Lawson, who was a stand-up linebacker in high school and also spent time at that position in college. "I've been waiting on this opportunity for a long time. Having the chance to come to Buffalo is great."
One of the pre-draft concerns with Lawson is his right shoulder, which he injured as a freshman. After being selected by the Bills, he told reporters that the shoulder hasn't given him any problems since his freshman season. Lawson said there was no truth to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter that Lawson "will need shoulder surgery that sidelines him 4-6 months at some point, probably after next season, per sources."
"The medical staff cleared him, said he can play," Whaley said. "Now, if something happens, it's going to happen, but it's nothing that we're really worried about or we wouldn't take him. We've got complete faith in our medical staff, and they signed off on him so we're excited to have him."
Lawson led the nation in 2015 with 25.5 tackles for loss, including 12.5 sacks. In 43 career games, he had 129 tackles, 46.5 tackles for loss, and 20 sacks.
Scouts view the 6-foot-3, 269-pound Lawson as exceptionally quick and athletic. They also see him as being strong at the point of attack, and using his hands well to separate from blockers. Lawson also does a nice job against the run, showing excellent pursuit.
"I can bring anything to the table," Lawson said. "I'm a guy that's played both (end and outside linebacker). I'm a guy that whatever the team needs me to do, I'm going to be able to do it."
Coach Rex Ryan isn't shy about his affinity for Clemson players. His son, Seth, is a member of the Tigers' football team. Before the Bills' first game against the New York Jets last season, Ryan showed up for one news conference wearing a Clemson helmet. Lawson and Ryan's son are friends, and Lawson has known the coach for three years and has spoken with him "a lot."
He said his pre-draft meeting with Ryan was "the best" he had.
"He walks in as a Day One starter, opposite Jerry Hughes," Whaley said. "He can set the edge from the outside, he can rush speed-to-power, and that gives us two nice rushers off the edge. And then you've got the push in the middle with our defensive tackles.
"I think this is a guy that has the versatility, too, when we go nickel or sub, he can go inside and use his quickness on those interior offensive linemen. So I know Coach (Ryan) is ecstatic about it just because of what he brings, first day, off the bus, he's starting. And his mind is going crazy over different ways he can use him."
The Bills have seven more picks in the draft, which resumes Friday night at 7 p.m. with rounds two and three. They still have needs to address at linebacker and offensive tackle, and might very well target a quarterback.