Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Lawrence named PFF’s 2017 breakout player

DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The analytic website Pro Football Focus has named Dallas Cowboys defensive end and free agent DeMarcus Lawrence their breakout player of the year.

When the Dallas Cowboys traded up to the 34th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft in order to select Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, they did so with the intent of him replacing one the greatest pass rushers in franchise history and a fellow namesake, DeMarcus Ware.

A month before that draft, the Cowboys released Ware after he spent nine seasons wearing The Star. Lawrence’s high draft selection was intended to usher in a new era of pass rushers in Dallas. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

During his rookie season, Lawrence spent half the year on the sidelines due to a broken foot. He spent the rest of the regular season catching up to speed and flashed his potential when he posted 2.0  sacks plus a game-sealing forced fumble and recovery in Dallas’ two playoff contests.

The following year, Lawrence switch from right end to the left side of the defensive line. This required a bit of an adjustment period for the young defender, as he recorded seven of his 8.0  total sacks that season after Week Ten.

Lawrence appeared to be on the brink of a breakout season in 2016. But a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy combined with offseason back surgery limited him to just 11 combined tackles and 1.0 sack in nine games. Lawrence later admitted he couldn’t even bend over most of that season.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract in Dallas, 2017 wasn’t looking very promising for the former second rounder. Especially considering he was forced to have yet another offseason back surgery. But Lawrence surprised everyone with his performance this past season. Leading the league in sacks for a good portion of the year, the 25-year old pass rusher exceeded expectations.

The four-year veteran racked up a career-high 58 combined tackles and 14.5 sacks, the latter he tied for second most in the NFL in 2017. Lawrence was also named to his first Pro Bowl and the the league’s All-Pro second team. Now one football analytic site has chosen the budding defensive star as their breakout player of the year.

"“No player embodied the term ‘breakout’ more though than Dallas Cowboys edge defender DeMarcus Lawrence,” wrote Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus. “He spent the first three seasons of his career rarely, if ever, hinting at elite potential. His overall grades in his first three years were 75.4, 80.2 and 68.9, respectively. That’s not the sort of grading trend that suggests he’d be the third-highest graded edge defender this season with a 94.1 overall grade.”"

Next: Cowboys need to show fans a new commitment

Prior to the start of the 2017 NFL regular season, the Dallas Cowboys publicly announced they needed to find themselves a “War Daddy” pass rusher. Little did they know DeMarcus Lawrence would become that player for them in his fourth season. Now a free agent, Lawrence is likely to cash in big as Dallas is expected to either sign the talented defender to a lucrative long-term extension or place their pricey franchise tag on him.