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Friday, July 18, 2014
ACC's best backups: No. 1

By David M. Hale

Last season, Florida State won a national championship, while its leader in takeaways (Nate Andrews), yards per carry (Karlos Williams) and yards per touch (Kermit Whitfield) combined to start just one game. In the current landscape of college football, talent at the top is crucial, but depth is often what separates the best teams. With that in mind, we’re counting down the ACC’s best backups -- players who weren’t starters last year and aren't currently penciled in atop the depth chart but who could make a major impact in 2014.

No. 1: Shaq Lawson (Clemson, So./DE)

Career numbers: Lawson didn’t get a start as a true freshman at Clemson last season, but he did make an impact. The defensive end worked behind one of the ACC’s best in Vic Beasley, but he maintained a steady stream of production when he was on the field, racking up four sacks, 10 tackles for loss, nine QB pressures and one pass breakup. The four sacks tied a Clemson record for a true freshman, and Lawson was named a second-team Freshman All-American as a result.

Projected role in 2014: Not much has changed for Clemson’s defensive line, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the ACC. Both starting ends return, which means Lawson remains, at least nominally, a backup. Still, Clemson figures to lean heavily on its pass rush this season, and coordinator Brent Venables will rotate often. Last year, nine different Tigers D-linemen got at least 100 snaps, and Lawson figures to see an increase from the 337 he received, even if it’s just to spell Beasley and Corey Crawford.

Why he’ll make an impact: While Lawson ranked fifth on Clemson’s roster in TFLs, there are only seven other returning players in the ACC who had more in 2013. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, Lawson is big and bruising but can play quick. And for linemen who’ve spent the game battling Beasley and Crawford, Lawson won’t provide any relief. For Clemson, the pass rush can be deployed the way many teams use tailbacks -- one to wear down the opposition, then fresh legs enter to hit the home run. It’s also worth noting that the bulk of Clemson’s defensive line is in its final season, so getting Lawson and other young guys playing time will be crucial to maintaining consistency on the line into 2015.