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Durability concerns could push Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson out of first round

Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson participates in senior day before facing Alabama A&M Saturday, Nov. 17, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson participates in senior day before facing Alabama A&M Saturday, Nov. 17, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson isn’t ready to reveal a decision on his final year of eligibility, but that isn’t stopping NFL draft experts from projecting where the All-SEC defender might go in April.

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called Lawson a “first-round caliber player” on a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

Kiper qualified his praise with concern over Lawson’s lengthy injury history. Lawson missed the 2014 season with a torn ACL and most of the 2015 season with a significant hip injury.

“If Lawson could have just stayed healthy his whole career and maximum all that ability on a game-to-game basis he would have been top 10 to 15 guy,” Kiper said. “He’s still in my opinion the eighth best defensive end and been as high as four or five. I think he’s got a chance to be in the first round discussion. I have him more of a second round grade right now.”

When Kiper revisited his opinion on Lawson late in the call, he stressed the grade had little to do with the All-SEC lineman’s talent. Lawson led Auburn with a career-high nine sacks this season, which was tied for third in the SEC.

“He’s force to be reckoned with the way he comes off that edge,” Kiper said.

While Lawson isn’t part of Kiper’s recently updated “big board” of top 25 overall draft eligible players, other outlets have the junior projected as a solid day one pick.

NFL Draft Scout has Lawson as the 26th ranked draft eligible player with a projected first round grade. Pro Football Focus, a top analytics website, has Lawson ranked 12th overall on its recently updated draft board.

“He still needs some refinement against the run, but averaging a pressure once every 5.9 pass rushing attempts, he will be able to make an impact as a pass rusher from day one in the NFL,” Pro Football Focus said.

Lawson hasn’t offered a timeline for when he will announce his decision.

The junior participated in senior day activities before playing Alabama A&M. After the game, coach Gus Malzahn expected Lawson to address his future at a later date.

“This is the class he came in with,” Malzahn said. “He’ll speed through everything when he’s ready towards the end of the season or at end of the season.”

Lawson considered leaving Auburn after last season, but announced he was returning in colorful fashion on social media.

The Georgia native explained his decision during Auburn’s spring camp.

“I need to get better as a football player, that's pretty much it,” Lawson said of coming back . “And I've got a lot to prove, a lot to prove to myself, nobody else. I still have a lot of stuff I want to accomplish. That's pretty much it. I just need to become a better football player.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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