Dexter Lawrence grew up a Giants fan in North Carolina.
Watching their defensive linemen such as Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Fred Robbins, he said, turned him on to Big Blue.
“It kind of inspired me,” he said.
Now he gets to follow them.
The Giants used their 17th overall selection – the first-round choice they acquired from the Browns in exchange for Odell Beckham Jr. – to select Lawrence, a defensive tackle from Clemson. The 6-4, 350-pounder gives the Giants a nose tackle for the middle of a young defensive line where he will be flanked by Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill.
“My goal is to come in day one and challenge the defensive line as being the greatest unit in the world kind of thing,” he said. “That’s just kind of what my mindset is going to be and what it has been since I’ve been in high school. Let’s not settle, let’s go get it.”
While many will compare Lawrence with Damon Harrison, the nose tackle the Giants traded in the middle of the 2018 season, the Giants instead compared him with another former Giant: Linval Joseph. Pat Shurmur coached the Vikings, the team Joseph signed with after four years with the Giants, and said Lawrence has the same kind of physical presence and pocket push the All-Pro has.
“This is a big human being,” Shurmur said.
Added Dave Gettleman: “Big men allow you to compete.”
Lawrence did not have much sack production in college, just four in his last two seasons, but the Giants said that was because he was playing hurt. He has a screw surgically implanted in the metatarsal in his foot, an injury he said slowed him down. The Giants said on Thursday night that Lawrence has been cleared medically despite the specter of a 350-pounder with foot problems that will always hover over the pick.
“The problem was they did a nerve block in the back of my leg and it irritated the nerves in my leg and I couldn’t do a toe raise or push-off with it or do anything with it for like a year and a month,” Lawrence said. “I felt like my old self probably halfway through my last season. Like the first half I was a little timid and I wasn’t quite confident with it and then I just had to sit down and talk to myself and be like, ‘You know how you felt playing on one leg, you got both of them back, take advantage of it. Just go out there and use it to the best of your abilities.’”
He’ll get that chance now with the Giants. And an opportunity to follow in the legacy of the players he grew up watching.
“I do consider myself a pass-rusher,” Lawrence said. “I just got to unlock it, that’s all. A lot of times, I didn’t set myself up for things. I know that’ll be the difference, and that’s a big focus of mine is to stop all the doubtin’.”