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Monday, May 9, 2011
The 49ers' underrated outside linebacker?

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Matt Maiocco's piece on Manny Lawson's future with the San Francisco 49ers provides a good opportunity to share related thoughts from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Williamson touched on Lawson during our conversation for an April 12 piece on NFC West linebackers. Lawson's career has been defined in relation to the expectations that came with his status as a first-round selection. Williamson:
"It's funny, on the Football Today podcast, we were going through every team, and superfans are giving their applications of what they would do to save their teams. Half the people out there are talking about signing Manny Lawson. I think he is going to get a lot of attention on the open market if he becomes a free agent.

"I would pay some attention to Pro Football Focus and those sites. He is interesting on that site. In their metrics, he ranks among the best pass-rushers in the league, but he does not get to the quarterback. He is a consistent pressure player. He just has low sack numbers.

"Every time I bring his name up, San Francisco fans are like, 'He is a bust, he is not good.' But the rest of the league wants him. The best might be ahead of him. He is long, fluid. If he went to New England, he might all of a sudden be going to Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl. Not that the San Francisco defense is bad, but you might be careful what you wish for with him leaving town. I don't think he has been a bust."

As Maiocco notes, Lawson has become more of an early-down player. The Pro Football Focus stats reflect as much. Lawson had far fewer pass-rushing attempts than any other player that ranked among the top 10 in their pass-rushing metrics. It's possible his efficiency wouldn't hold up spread across a larger number of pass-rush attempts.

The best-case scenario for the 49ers, in my view, would be for the NFL to impose 2010 rules once free agency opens. The team could then retain Lawson on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent, buying time for Aldon Smith's transition while keeping the rotation as deep and talented as possible, and at a reasonable cost.

CoasterNiner and ruff_huff_productions had asked about Lawson in the comments section of that April 12 item. With an assist from a couple of Matts -- Maiocco and Williamson -- we've hopefully advanced the discussion a few yards.