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Clemson Ends on Carolina's Radar?

Posted Mar 11, 2016

Breakout years for Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd could lead to intrigue when the Panthers pick 30th in next month's draft.

This time last year, defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd were sweating in spring practice at Clemson, having started one game combined in their college careers but determined to change that.

Mission accomplished.

A year later, Lawson and Dodd are preparing for the NFL Draft, with both poised to potentially be selected in the first round after ranking one-two in the nation in tackles for loss last season.

"We're brothers," Lawson said. "We worked together. We made each other better and got us to the situation that we're in."

When Vic Beasley headed to the NFL following the 2014 season – he was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Falcons – it opened the door for Lawson and Dodd to flourish. Lawson entered the 2015 with some hype despite having just one career start based on his role as a disruptive reserve, but Dodd was a virtual unknown.

In some ways, it stayed that way for Dodd throughout the season, even as he matched Lawson sack-for-sack during Clemson's undefeated regular season. But in the playoffs, when Lawson went down early in the semifinals against Oklahoma, Dodd finally drew notice.

"Shaq went down in the Orange Bowl game, and then all eyes came on me like, ‘What is this young guy going to do?' " Dodd said. "I showed up like I had been showing up all season, and then I finally got the praise.

"I just did what I did and I came hard every play like I had all season. Fortunately I made some plays, some big plays, critical plays, in both of those games."

In the other game, the national title tilt against Alabama, Lawson returned to action and the duo made its final statement as college players while helping the Tigers nearly win the championship. Lawson finished the season with 25.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, while Dodd ended up with 23.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.

They both declared for the draft shortly after the season, and now Lawson is universally reviewed as a first-round pick while Dodd is viewed as a fast riser.

"I came out because of the grade NFL scouts gave me, a second-round grade," Dodd said. "And then having a great playoff, two playoff games, there just wasn't more that I could prove. I feel like I was complete and I was ready to go."

Of course, there is always more to prove, and that's what Dodd in particular aim to do at Clemson's pro day Thursday. While Lawson had the fourth-fastest 40 time (4.70 seconds) among defensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine and the second-fastest in the 20-yard shuttle run (4.21 seconds), Dodd ran a 4.86 in the 40 before pulling up on his second attempt with a hamstring injury that prevented him from competing in any other drills.

"I had a lot to prove coming into this day," Dodd said at his pro day. "I didn't get to do a lot at the combine, so I took this day as a very big day."

A bigger day looms, of course. Could Lawson fall to the Panthers, who hold the 30th pick in the draft? Could Dodd still be there when the Panthers pick?

"That would be great, only 45 minutes away from home," Lawson said of the possibility of playing for the Panthers. "I paid attention to those guys a lot this year with them making the Super Bowl. Great team. Great defense."

Added Dodd: "Being close to home, I'd love it. I love the Carolinas. So yeah, I wouldn't complain."