By Russ Lande
When Taylor Lewan announced he was returning to Michigan for his senior season, it was widely assumed that he would improve during that additional time and lock up a spot as a top-10 pick. However, after a solid but unspectacular 2013 season Lewan seems to be stuck behind Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson and is destined to be the third offensive tackle selected in the draft -- although he'll still be a first-round pick, despite being arrested for an incident that occurred in December.
A premier athlete, Lewan has a combination of length, size, feet and all-around athleticism that excites NFL teams. It is not a challenge for him to slide out to point of contact quickly in order to stop explosive edge rushers. Unlike many tall offensive linemen, Lewan can bend his knees and sink his hips to pass block with a good, wide base so that he can easily slide side to side to mirror pass rushers. His experience is evident in the patience he displays waiting for pass rushers to make secondary moves after initial contact. He does not lunge and reach, but rather he stays in good position and waits patiently for pass rushers to come to him. Not surprisingly, he communicates well with the other linemen to adjust to stunts.
Lewan's main problem is his lack of aggressiveness with his hands in pass pro. When he gets a good fit on the pass rusher quickly, he ties up and eliminates his man from the play nearly every time. However, the issue is that too often he is not aggressive with his hands, which leaves his chest wide open and allows aggressive pass rushers to jolt and drive him backward into the quarterback's lap with ease.
His pass protection was virtually unchanged as a senior, but as a run blocker he definitely took his game to another level. Many offensive linemen are so focused on pass blocking that they are passive, positional run blockers, but Lewan is the opposite, as he shows a desire to dominate his man. On down/side in-line run blocks, he attacks his man, delivers a blow quickly while maintaining leverage and consistently drives his man down the line of scrimmage.
Although he does not show the brute strength to get movement on straight-ahead run blocks, he does make contact with the defender quickly, keeps his feet moving and usually is able to tie his man up and keep him from impacting the play. The same initial quickness that helps him excel in pass protection enables him to get to the shaded defensive linemen, work around him and seal them out of the play with a good reach block, both on inside and outside runs.
While not as good of a player, Lewan reminds me of Jonathan Ogden when he pulls and lead blocks out in space because he has the speed to get out in front of the play and the athleticism to adjust and block the defender. And he's just as fast stepping through the line to get to the second level, where he can be an excellent blocker when he keeps his knees bent and stays under control. However, he does have a bad habit of losing patience after stepping through the line and will reach to make contact with defenders instead of waiting for them to get to him, which leads to over-extending and whiffing on blocks.
Lewan is far from a finished product, but for those bashing him, remember how hard it is to find a tall, athletic offensive tackle who excels as both a run and pass blocker. While he will not be a top-10 pick, I expect him to be selected between picks 10 and 25, and he should start as a rookie. He has what it takes to be a longtime starting left tackle in the NFL, although he may start his career at right tackle while he adjusts to the NFL.
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Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big Ten Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.