This is a debate that has been going on since the San Diego Chargers picked cornerback Antonio Cromartie with the 19th pick. The classic football player (Hali) vs. the super athlete (Lawson). It seems quite simple, right? Wrong! There's more to it than that.
The choice all depends on what the person making the pick is going for. I must admit that I was one of the people calling Manny Lawson's name as Paul Tagliabue walked to the podium, only to announce that the Chiefs had selected Tamba Hali.
My first reaction was, "What? What are they thinking?" But after considering the facts, the pick has grown on me. I truly believe it was the best pick for the Chiefs. Manny Lawson is an incredible athlete and a great pass rusher, but at 238 pounds can he play with his hand down every play?
There's a big problem when you have absolutely no answer to that question. Some felt that Hali was a reach, and that Lawson had better value at 20. If the draft had been held immediately after the Senior Bowl, Hali, who was defensive MVP for the North, would have been a top 15 pick. Lawson also played well in the Senior Bowl, though. So you're back to square one again.
Then you start looking at workouts. Hali didn't do so well, while Lawson wowed scouts with his 4.43 second speed and 39.5-inch vertical jump. This is where fans get too caught up in numbers. People get caught up in measurables. As Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards said, "forget about the tape."
Regardless of how popular the combine and pro days are, watching film is the best way to scout a player. On film, Hali sticks out more than Lawson, especially when you consider that NC State?s defensive line had more talent than Penn State?s.
Hali has a motor that is simply incredible. Lawson is a great pass rusher, and can use his speed to get to the quarterback. But then you hear his favorite pass-rush move is the bull rush. That sends up red flags to me, and makes me think Hali is the better player. At 238 pounds, Lawson will never win a battle in the trenches against players like Willie Roaf and Jonathan Ogden, especially if all he?s relying on is the bull rush. That is a weakness that truly scares me away from a first round pick.
What?s even more disconcerting is that Lawson was unable to finish drills on the first day of 49ers rookie camp because he was too winded. That?s not a very good start to his NFL career.
To be fair, Hali has his own weaknesses. He still needs to learn how to use his hands correctly. But for the most part, I think that he's just inexperienced as a defensive end and needs coaching. So when you consider the facts, watch the film and look at the size of the man?s desire to play football, Hali is the perfect fit for the Chiefs at left defensive end.
With an accomplished pass-rusher opposite, Jared Allen could easily get 12 sacks every year. Hali could be equally as productive as Allen. The only question that remains is how well Hali can hold up against the run. I?d say he has a better chance to be more proficient at it than Lawson, especially at this early stage of their careers.
The Chiefs don't need two dynamic pass rushers on the defensive line. They need one pass-rush specialist (Allen) and a good pass rusher who is equally good against the run (Hali). A combination like that could solve the problems the Chiefs? defensive line has had in recent years. But anybody who doesn't think Hali is capable of racking up double-digit sacks over the course of an NFL season should look at his games against Ohio State and Wisconsin. He was simply dominant against both of those teams.
There might still be a question of who is the better prospect between Hali and Lawson. The question of who was better for the Chiefs is answered, and it?s Tamba Hali.