In the span of a week, Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence had a drug test come back positive for an anabolic steroid not approved for human use or consumption in the U.S., or in any other country, vehemently denied in front of reporters that he knowingly put anything illegal into his body, and had the NCAA officially confirm his suspension on Thursday. He joins tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella as the three Tigers players who were not cleared to play Saturday’s Cotton Bowl playoff matchup against Notre Dame.
It’s been a tough time for Lawrence and it might only get worse given how much Clemson will probably miss its first-team All-ACC defensive lineman. Lawrence finished the season with 44 tackles (seven for loss), three pass break-ups, 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick. Pro Football Focus notes that he has averaged 33 pressures per season in his three-year career, more than heralded teammate Christian Wilkins. Hell, he can even be used on the offensive side of the ball. But all of that is lost with this newly announced suspension.
Head coach Dabo Swinney thinks the solution to preventing circumstances like these from arising is for the NCAA to create “a common sense committee” to look at drug tests on a case-by-case basis instead of the positive/negative binary. The implication here is that if someone were to actually analyze the players and their tests, they’d see that there is no way that these upstanding young gentlemen would have juiced before such an important game.
But I think there’s a different solution here. See, what probably hurts the most for Lawrence is how he, more than almost anyone else on his team, did not need to participate in this game. Mock drafts everywhere have Lawrence as a first-round draft pick, with some sites having him as high as a top-three prospect of the 2019 class. Sure, it’s certainly higher stakes than what Ed Oliver or Will Grier skipped, but with that much hype following this season, any risk-reward ratio likely wouldn’t have favored him not playing in the first place. Instead, he went through with preparations for the big-stage game and in the end all he’s gotten is the hassle and ignominy of a PED suspension. The lesson is simple here: don’t play in bowl games.