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It's nearly impossible to project how good a player will be based on physical attributes and spot performances alone but, sometimes, it's hard not to feel all warm and fuzzy about a player's potential. Lawrence Sidbury is that player for the Atlanta Falcons.
He's raw and needs to make some tweaks to his overall game before he is ready to be a full-time player but, once he does, he should be a very good defensive end for the Birds.
He doesn't have the size that most coaches covet in a defensive end but he has great hands and a natural ability to rush the passer that cannot be overlooked. Further, a look at the Falcons roster reveals that Coach Smith and company aren't afraid of stockpiling hybrids (Sidbury is likely better suited, size-wise to be a linebacker, but has the skill set to play defensive end) to run their 4-3 scheme.
It's a scheme that requires a heady and quick player at the end spot who can provide not only a solid edge rush but also solid run support. The latter holds the most significant weakness to Sidbury's game—he is unimpressive against the run.
His inexperience and lack of lower body strength make him prey to being tossed about by bigger,more experienced, tackles; that makes him a liability as a run stopper/defender for the moment. However, this is something he can improve upon and become more proficient at—working against bigger linemen—with time.
He will learn the techniques needed to better his arsenal of moves and shed those tackles more effectively at the pro level. Add to that some time in the weight room and work with a strength and conditioning coach and he could become just as nasty against the run as he is likely to be against the pass.
However, it's the things that cannot be taught that make him so intriguingas a prospect.
For one, he has great recognition skills which allow him to be on-the ball once it's snapped. Additionally, he's a solid tackler who never quits on a play; using his reach or large hands to make one last grab before being brought down. Lastly,his motor runs non-stop on every play. He won't be beat for lack of effort that's for sure.
Work-ethic. Drive. Game instincts. Those cannot be taught and Sidbury comes by them naturally—thanks in large part to having played at such a small school.
As a stand-out for the University of Richmond Spiders, he was in on every play; he was sure to make his presence felt no matter where he was on the field. His goal was to be an asset, not a liability.
His performance in the FCS National Championship Game is just a small sampling of his enormous upside. See that here.
That said, his small school status makes him work even harder to prove to himself and, to those that continue to doubt his ability at the next level, that he is a good player. He is the real deal.
In his mind, his work on the field will speak volumes off it. That's the guy you want on your team.
The knocks on him are plenty, sure, but there are none that cannot be overcome with time, good coaching, and experience. The Falcons obviously think a lot of the kid, feeling they got a steal in the fourth-round of this year's draft; he has already been signed to a contract and will likely see the bulk of his action come in the preseason this year.
That said, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him get some reps as a situational pass-rusher this season, just so he can get the game experience he needs to mature into a solid end down the line.
Lawrence Sidbury may not be there yet, but keep an eye on this kid, he may be one of the deepest sleepers of the 2009 draft.