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It was on April 19th, 2006 that the deal was consummated between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers. Right before the draft was to begin these two had been in negotiations with one another for the 49ers to acquire another premier first round draft pick.
Mike Nolan was determined to land not one potential starting playmaker but two. And to do that, it would require a lot of savvy war room talk between the two interested parties. The deal was approved and the San Francisco 49ers came away with the 22nd overall pick as a bonus to their sixth round pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft.
The Denver Broncos gained the 37th and 68th overall picks from the San Francisco 49ers in this deal. A price some may think is too steep but it was one that put us in a prime position to take a playmaker of immense possibilities.
“At No. 6, you have a better idea of what you are going to get,” Nolan told ESPN.com. “In the middle or later half of the first round, we are pretty confident we are going to get a good player.”
With so many positions of need the San Francisco 49ers approached this draft with the idea of drafting potential starters rather than looking at filling depth concerns along the context of both lines of defense and offense.
The entire spectrum was centered on drafting the best available player that appeared to us as the numbers dictated them to be. A great deal of thought and analysis went into this game plan right before the draft.
Both Vice President of Personnel Scott McCloughan and Head Coach Mike Nolan felt that the time was ripe to manufacture a deal to acquire a proven player that would come in and make a name for himself.
That player turned out to be North Carolina State’s Manny Lawson who was the teammate of the No.#1 overall selection in North Carolina State’s Mario Williams taken by the Houston Texans at the top of the first round.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted him with the 22nd overall pick and expect him to fill the void left by the departed proven veteran in outside linebacker Julian Peterson now playing for the rival Seattle Seahawks.
This is an athlete that is sure to generate shock waves throughout the NFL and may be more versatile and proven as a player even above his teammate in Mario Williams, because he was considered the weak side of the defensive alignment at North Carolina State and was tested on a constant basis by that school’s opponents throughout the season.
Looking back on his college career you can see in comparison to his co-partner in Mario Williams, a 6-foot-7, 295-pound sculpture of perfection, fast enough to cover 40 yards in 4.5 seconds and powerful enough to even bench press 225 pounds 35 times, Manny Lawson looked like the runt of the litter.
When you look at the opposite side of the defense where Mario Williams wasn’t there stood Manny Lawson a beanpole with long arms and skinny legs who just four years earlier had stepped out on to the campus as malnourished-looking as the team kicker?
But let me tell you something about this Manny Lawson. Running the ball in his direction never was an easy task and his speed is just plain phenomenal to say the very least.
“They definitely would come in and test Manny,” recalls Todd Stroud, North Carolina State’s defensive line coach. “But you couldn’t win against our ends. Manny was just as effective as Mario Williams in stopping the run.”
So much so, that Manny finished the season with 70 tackles last season; Mario, the draft’s No. 1 overall pick, had 60.
During his tenure at North Carolina State, Manny would always fuel the competitive spirit that existed between Mario and himself. It was something that became a normal routine between the two as games were prevailing to happen and were actually played.
Manny Lawson is from a small town in North Carolina called Goldsboro, a small city about an hour away from the state’s capitol (Raleigh), but it was big enough to have produced another current NFL player, Tennessee Titans linebacker David Thornton.
Manny actually found himself at times while learning the nuances of playing football to have to mimic actions and football scenarios with live trees rather than people. He grew up fast and was one of the best students in his high school class.
In fact he found himself an easy shoe-in to the region’s top university, Duke, to study engineering. But with some careful thought he chose North Carolina State, where he applied his knowledge of physics, which in retrospect helped him to shed blockers who actually outweighed him by more than 100 pounds.
Pass pressure on the quarterback has been something of the distant pass for the San Francisco 49ers. Never has there been a real potent pass attack since the days of Charles Haley and Chris Doleman.
Manny Lawson is being counted on heavily to change that sense of direction. The secondary of our defense has been lit up time and time again due to the lack thereof a real pass rush from our defense. We are now counting on Manny Lawson to change that formula with his outstanding ability to apply pressure through leverage and speed.
The 49er pass rush produced the second-fewest sacks (28) in the league. That is and has been a cause for grave concern among the 49er staff. This problem has been so consistent that this particular problem for the 49er defense has caused them to have but one player in the last six years with more than 10 sacks in a season (Andre Carter had 12.5 in 2002).
Since that time the 49ers haven’t had a player register any double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons since Haley had 11.5 and 10.5 in 1989 and 1990. Pretty pathetic don’t you think? The San Francisco 49ers are in dire need of rehabilitation at this particular juncture.
We have been unable to produce any kind of real pressure that has caused offenses to fear us in anyway. It is a problem that Mike Nolan and the rest of the staff need to address and diagnose.
We have to assume that Manny Lawson provides us with an instant upgrade with that thought and his ability to play and learn beside some of the best in the business such as Bryant Young and Derek Smith will surely pay off someday.
Lawson has begun practicing with the first unit right from the outset of these past mini-camps. He has lined up at the outside linebacker position held in recent years by Julian Peterson, the two-time Pro Bowler who did sign a seven-year, $54 million free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks this past March.
The coaching staff so far under Mike Nolan has been impressed with his attention to detail and his quickness out of his stance. On passing downs, Lawson will start to line up as a rush end opposite the left tackle, where he’ll count on his natural instincts and God-given abilities to highlight themselves. He will show great athleticism, quickness and strength to test against some of the best blockers in the game today.
“I haven’t had anyone with this kind of speed,” said 49ers defensive coordinator Billy Davis, who was a Carolina assistant in 1996 coached linebackers Kevin Greene and Lamar Lathon when they finished 1-2 in the NFL in sacks with 14.5 and 13.5, respectively.
However you want to spin it the facts remain a constant on Manny Lawson. Coaches and teammates alike have come away impressed and are confident in anything he sets out to do. His abilities out on the playing field have been backed up by his actions every time you see him.
“He’s very good at using leverage,” said Todd Stroud North Carolina State’s defensive line coach. “His hands are very accurate, and he’s stronger than you think. He uses that big wingspan to his advantage.”
Manny Lawson not only made a statement through his coaches from college but he also demonstrated his ability at the NFL combine in front of many football personnel including the 49ers. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and when he’s in the right mood his tongue is known to be just as fast.
Here is the tale of the tape on North Carolina State’s Manny Lawson that stands 6-5 and weighs 240-pounds. He has been compared to present defensive end Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins.
Strengths: He is an outstanding athlete that demonstrates rare speed. He is an explosive tackler. He is able to fly off the edge and shows great closing burst as a pass rusher. He continues to develop some pass-rushing techniques and shows the speed to blow past offensive tackles.
He displays solid instincts, by taking sound angles to the ball and makes sound open-field tackles. He always works hard in the weight room and has the potential to add bulk if need be.
Weaknesses: He is a bit undersized and raw. He needs to strengthen his lower body and play with better leverage at the point of attack. He sometimes can get overwhelmed against the run. Must learn to use his hands better to shed blocks. Can be seen relying too much on his upper body strength.
Bottom line: Manny has freakish strength and terrific running and leaping ability. He needs a bit of polish in areas but has unlimited potential. With added bulk, he could be a solid every down end. He has the ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Manny Lawson is not alone on the 49er roster from North Carolina State. Defensive back Marcus Hudson, was also drafted 192nd overall in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL draft. He still remembers seeing Lawson for the first time as a freshman and believing that there was no way this guy could be a defensive player, with the thought at that time with Lawson only weighing 189 pounds.
“It was kind of funny watching him play at linebacker,” Hudson said, “because you’d think most tall guys with a slim figure like he had would be playing wide receiver or tight end. They put him at linebacker, and he made a good transition.”
Lawson was a proven commodity in high school as a track start rather than as a football star, excelling in the high hurdles and long jump at that. With these skills he acquired in track though he then translated them to the football field.
Lawson was seen breaking to the ball faster than other players. And when this was combined with one of the longest reaches in college football 35.75 inches; his leaping ability translated to seven blocked punts for the Wolf pack.
Defensive end veteran Bryant Young has also sung the praises of Manny Lawson, as he believes that the defense will only become great with an intensified pass rush. Something he led the 49ers last season in sacks with eight and hopes to be able to add to that with Lawson in the mix.
The secondary of the San Francisco 49ers has been at the mercy of opposing quarterbacks for far too long now. The only way to lend help to that unit is to apply pressure on the quarterback to make errors in judgment and force him on to his back.
“You can do a lot with a guy that has that kind of speed coming off the edge,” Young said. “He’ll be able to force plays, force fumbles, even if he doesn’t get there. He can make the quarterback scramble and force him into other people. It’s going to do a lot for everybody across the board.”
However you look at it Manny Lawson provides instant excitement as a pass rusher and a sure fine tackler at that. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with in both the running game and the passing game while out on the field. I am confident that he’ll be a sure fine voice in the locker room and on the sidelines as well.
I predict that he’ll match Julian Peterson’s past performances and even surpass them due to his impressive physical abilities and skills and his premier speed off the edge. Manny Lawson comes in and solidifies that position that Peterson held and was thought to be untouchable after he departed.
Mike Nolan came away impressed with what he saw and his scouting reports made this deal a real deal to be admired by others. Had we not made the trade with Denver we would’ve been playing against Lawson instead.
The real law and order will be played out on the field in Monster Park and beyond my fellow fans. I will be looking at Manny Lawson all season long and I am confident he’ll make all of us proud by breaking the sound barrier Manny style.