Position: defensive end
Size: 6-4, 251 lbs.
High school: Pottsboro (Pottsboro, Texas)
Hometown: Pottsboro, Texas
Justin Lawler was a consensus two-star recruit from a Class 2A school on the Oklahoma-Texas border. The 131st-ranked defensive end nationally and 21st-ranked in Texas, Lawler picked SMU over Memphis, North Texas and UTSA. He was a first-team 2A All-State selection and won the 2A All-State defensive MVP. In addition to football, Lawler lettered in basketball, baseball, powerlifting and track.
SMU didn’t have many players who demonstrated consistency for the entire season, but Lawler was a bright spot. He had a strong spring and fall camp and was one of three SMU defensive players to start all 12 games. He led the team with 64 tackles and 5 sacks while coming in second with 9 tackles for loss.
Lawler enters 2016 with big expectations. He’s the best defensive player on the roster right now and SMU needs him to build on his 2015 season. The coaches have referred to him an important figure in the locker room who was in charge of some of the player-led summer workouts. He is one of six players on SMU’s leadership council.
Now that he’s proven, Lawler will draw more attention from opposing offenses and will be the focus of some protection schemes. He needs to produce even with that attention, or at worst use the opponent attention to create more advantageous matchup for his teammates elsewhere.
On paper, SMU has significantly more depth on the defensive line that it did in 2015. Since the start of fall camp, Chad Morris has expressed his satisfaction with the creation of the depth along the line. A pass rush that was nonexistent for a major of last season needs to improve, and that starts with Lawler having another strong season. SMU has more skilled rushers and better athletes on the edge now, so there are no excuses to not improve in some way. It’s unlikely Lawler reaches double-digit sacks in 2016, but he’s still SMU’s best pass rusher and edge defender right now. If anyone on the defense is going to have an all-conference season, it’s him.