Giants defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence knows what it’s like to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft after being taken 17 overall in 2019.
Now a year later, his former Clemson teammate Isaiah Simmons, with whom he spent three seasons in college during the 2016-18 seasons, will likely be selected on the first day of the draft.
But will that selecting team be the Giants? Lawrence, in an exclusive phone interview, would be all for reuniting with his college teammate at the NFL level.
“I would love it if he winds up here,” Lawrence said. “Just to have another familiar face and winning attitude in the building who knows what he’s doing and knows how to win is an important factor that can go a very long way.”
Lawrence got a firsthand look at Simmons' unique versatility and freakish athleticism. At Clemson, Simmons' numerous roles included outside linebacker, rushing the passer, covering the slot, and dropping back into coverage as a deep-half-safety.
“His skill set is rare to come by," Lawrence opined. "Having him around would be great in a lot of different ways. His ability to rush the passer and drop back in coverage would give our defense a boost in both areas where he excels.”
At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Simmons ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the combine in February, which was faster than top-rated wide receiver prospects Ceedee Lamb (4.5) of Oklahoma and Alabama's Jerry Jeudy (4.45).
“It doesn’t surprise me seeing some of the stuff he did at the combine. I know he’s been working towards this his whole life, and I’m proud of him for putting it on display,” said Lawrence.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he and (Ohio State edge rusher) Chase Young are the two best defensive players in this draft.”
Lawrence also discussed his thoughts on the potential return by veteran teammate Leonard Williams, whom the Giants placed the franchise tag on last month.
“I’m excited that he’s coming back," said Lawerence, who described Williams as the experienced veteran leader of the defensive line.
"He came in late last year and taught me some stuff that helped my game improve in the second half. He brings a great attitude to the field and boosts the chemistry of our defensive line.”
The Giants were heavily criticized for sending a 2020 third-round pick and a conditional 2021 fifth-round pick to the Jets in exchange for Williams, a pending free agent, at last year’s trade deadline.
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Williams, the sixth overall draft pick in 2015, was already under heavy scrutiny for having recorded just 17 sacks before arriving at the Giants. That he only managed a half of a sack in eight games with the Giants didn't do much to quell growing concerns about him living up to his draft pedigree.
However, Williams's contributions weren't a total wash as he was still able to consistently get to the quarterback. Per Pro Football Focus, he finished with 31 total quarterback pressures.
Williams was also was a reason for the improved play by the Giants' front 7 in the final eight games of the year when he took on double team blocks to free up opportunities for others and contributed to stopping the run.
“He brings experience and a great work ethic to our group because he makes you want to outwork him in practice every day, where he goes harder than anyone," said Lawrence of Williams. "A lot of people don’t understand the value he brings to a defense, but I know firsthand what kind of impact he makes.”
Lawrence has been training down in Florida while he waits out the COVId-19 restrictions placed on travel and group gatherings.
While he wishes he could be with his Giants teammates and new coaches, he understands that he has to stay positive and be patient and is using this extra time to his advantage to improve his craft.
“Learning the little techniques on how to get to the quarterback was a big goal of mine this off-season. I want to become a more consistent pass rusher and disrupt the pocket on a regular basis,” said Lawrence.
“I want to keep my confidence and get things rolling by being the best leader I can be. My mindset is to lead by example with charisma and bring a family attitude to the team. I want to let my teammates know I’m playing for them, and they will hopefully do the same by playing for me.”
Lawrence said he has received his new playbook to begin studying the defense. Among his goals in his second season are to improve disrupting the pocket.
“Obviously for a defensive lineman, there are some similarities to last year’s playbook, but the real differences come from the style of coaching," he said of the defenses.
"There will always be a certain play or technique based on a specific coach and scheme, which is where the need for adjustment and learning comes from.”
But like everyone else, Lawrence, who as a rookie started all 16 games and recorded 2.5 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, 15 pressures, 38 tackles, and 3 tackles for a loss, wonders how the mandatory restrictions implemented to slow down the spread of COVID-19 might affect the team.
“I think these current restrictions will definitely affect us with a new staff, but hopefully, we can do some Zoom meetings to get a feel of the coaching and playbook to see how they want to do things," he said.
"It will allow us to get our minds working and in rhythm with how things are supposed to be.”