Former Canadian Football League (CFL) star Shawn Lemon of the Calgary Stampeders signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason to potentially shore up the position’s depth and make a case to be on the 53-man roster. Lemon, like many before him, is trying to make the transition from the CFL to the NFL, though few have done it successfully. Even fewer have been impact players in the NFL. From watching tape on him, I have my concerns about Lemon and his transition to the next level. I do believe he could potentially be a third down pass rushing specialist for the Steelers. In the ever-evolving pass heavy NFL, those kind of players have their place on an NFL roster.
Lemon, the former Akron product, possesses prototypical size for the position at 6’2, 251 lbs. There won’t be any complaints about his lack of strength or size, as he was able to hold up quite well against bigger tackles in the Canadian league.
The “tape” I’m using to breakdown Shawn Lemon is a highlight package. I have my concerns with this as it doesn ?t show the overall scope of Lemon as a player, but instead highlights his attributes while glazing over the negatives. In spite of this, I was still able to get an accurate gauge of his play and will break it down for you here. The first game we will see of Lemon’s is against the Edmonton Eskimos.
Lemon is lined up over the right tackle. The first thing you’ll notice is how far wide he is lined up. This is one of the many changes from the CFL to the NFL. This also gives the advantage to the edge rusher as it forces the tackle to move laterally quicker.
Lemon’s great hand use allows him to easily disengage from the tackle and continue his pursuit into the backfield.
Lemon gets the sack and forces his one of his eight fumbles on the season.
Next up is Lemon’s ability against the run. While most of the tape points to him being only average at stacking and shedding blocks, this particular play was impressive.
Lemon is lined up over the right tackle again split out wide.
Lemon does a very nice job stacking and shedding the block while the rest of the Stampeders’ line has forced the run back over to the right side.
The RB runs directly into the tackle and the play is dead on arrival.
This time we’re getting a different look from Lemon lining up over the left tackle instead of the right. Still, he is split out wide.
Lemon executes a near-perfect spin move, getting into the backfield only 2.8 seconds after the snap.
Lemon records the sack. It’s important to point out that the rest of the pass rush also did a very nice job despite only sending three. The Stampeders generated pressure from both the left and right side as well as interior pressure.
Here we get a different look from Lemon again, this time rushing in a more traditional DE stance. Once again lined up over the right tackle, but this time with his hand in the dirt.
Once again easily shedding the block with good use of hands and into the backfield with his quick first step.
Another sack strip for Lemon.
From the above breakdown, there are obvious traits Lemon brings with him to the NFL level. He’s versatile, showing the ability to rush standing up or as more of a traditional 4-3 edge rusher with his hand in the dirt. He displays great use of hands by disengaging off of blockers and possesses a strong bull rush and spin move as well. Lemon’s pass rush arsenal is fairly strong which is something the Steelers lack at edge rusher at this moment. Lemon also possesses a very quick first step, which in the CFL level allowed him to exploit bigger, less athletic right tackles and allowed him to quickly get into the backfield. He is also only 26 years old and has room to grow as a player.
There are concerns to his game, however. If you noticed, there wasn’t much in terms of pass coverage highlights in his tape because there is very little on him in coverage. This is concerning for a couple of different reasons, notably because it makes it extremely difficult to get an accurate gauge on his ability in space. As an outside linebacker in new Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler’s scheme, Lemon would be tasked with dropping back in coverage less, while spending more time getting after the quarterback. However, there will be times in which he has to drop back and I cannot get a read how he is going to perform in space. I will say that defensive ends and linebackers who are tasked with dropping back into coverage as little as he has been will often struggle with it mightily. This, above anything else, may handicap Lemon’s chances at making the 53-man roster.
It is also important to point out that Lemon is average against the run. He will show flashes of stacking and shedding blockers to get into the backfield, but then he will get driven off the ball or have tackles ride him to the outside and essentially take him out of the play. His ability to anchor the edge in the run game is concerning.
My prediction? Lemon makes the 53-man roster by providing solid depth at outside linebacker and will see the field on passing downs. If his ability in the run game and in coverage significantly improves over the next season, Lemon may be a rotational linebacker for this team from here on out.