The 50 most important college players in Texas in 2017 — No. 30: SMU’s Justin Lawler

AS THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON EDGES CLOSER, WE TAKE A LOOK AT THE MOST PIVOTAL PLAYERS FOR EACH PROGRAM'S RESPECTIVE SUCCESS.

The importance of a player is not always defined by their skill level. The most important player on a team or in a unit is not always the best player on a team. This list is designed to breakdown the 50 most important players in Texas college football for the 2017 season. It is not a ranking of the 50 best college football players in the state. Importance can be defined by position, need, skill or leadership. We’ll count down the list through the summer, all the way to No. 1.

Previously:
50 – Lamar DE Daniel Crosley / 49 – TCU WR KaVontae Turpin / 48 – UTEP QB Ryan Metz
47 – UMHB RB Markeith Miller / 46 – Sam Houston State DE PJ Hall / 45 – Baylor WR Blake Lynch
44 – Texas Tech WR Jonathan Giles (transferred) / 43 – Texas Tech RB Justin Stockton
42 – PVAMU WR Joshua Simmons / 41 – Rice RB Samuel Stewart / 40 – UNT WR Jalen Guyton
39 – Texas RB Chris Warren / 38 – Rice OL Trey Martin / 37 – Texas A&M Commerce QB Luis Perez
36 – Baylor DL K.J. Smith / 35 – Texas State LB Gabe Loyd / 34 – Texas State WR Thurman Morbley
33 – Houston DB Khalil Williams / 32 – Texas Tech LB Jordyn Brooks / 31 – SFA DL John Franklin

The History

Few players from small-town schools in Texas have made the jump to big-time college football star on the defensive front like Justin Lawler. As a junior, Lawler continued his climb in production for the Mustangs and became the first SMU defensive lineman to earn first-team all-conference honors since 2012. He got off to a monster start to the season, recording 3.5 sacks in the opener to help the Mustangs cruise past rival North Texas. Lawler went on to finish second on the team in tackles with 65, while adding 15 TFL and six sacks.

Coming out of then-Class 2A Pottsboro High School, Lawler was a two-star prospect and a two-time District MVP for the Cardinals. He redshirted in 2013 but saw action in all 12 games as a freshman. In 2015, Lawler busted on to the scene to lead SMU in tackles (64) while adding nine TFL. He’s now started 24 straight games for SMU heading into his senior year.

The Skillset

Lawler’s production is even more impressive when you look at the number of times he is double-teamed by opponents on a regular basis. His athleticism was a big selling point to the coaching staff under then-head coach June Jones and Chad Morris has certainly been thrilled with the results under his watch. Lawler (6-4, 265) has emerged as a three-down weapon up front for the Mustangs, providing an impact in both run and pass defense. Lawler is consistently among the team’s leader in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, providing stability in an otherwise inconsistent (but improving) position group for SMU.

The Impact

Lawler has done most of his damage over the last two seasons without having a true complementary weapon to draw attention away from him and that may be the case again this season. Luckily for SMU, that hasn’t been a problem thus far. The Mustangs don’t have a lot of experience returning on the defensive front, but rising sophomore Demerick Gary has the potential to develop into a solid contributor. Regardless, Lawler will be relied upon heavily as the Mustangs look to take the next step in the rebuilding process with a bowl appearance in his senior season.

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Brady Keane is a Contributing Writer for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. Follow him on Twitter: @BradyKeane.

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