The University of Michigan has a rich tradition of producing NFL caliber offensive lineman and the latest Wolverine product looking to display his talents on Sunday afternoons is left tackle Taylor Lewan. Lewan considered entering the 2013 NFL draft but ultimately opted against it, despite the over whelming belief that he would have been a top 15 prospect. When asked why he decided to return to school, Lewan spoke of becoming a true “Michigan Man” and leading the Wolverines to their 43rd Big Ten title and restoring glory to the storied program which has struggled since Lloyd Carr’s departure. Lewan has been open about being more concerned with his NFL future than the success of the Michigan program in the past, but that train of thought ended with the arrival of Brady Hoke in 2011. Hoke preaches the importance of Big Ten Championships while leaving a legacy and tradition for the underclassman to carry on. Hoke’s leadership has had a profound influence on Lewan, and with a strong senior season, the Wolverine’s blindside protector could end up in the top 5.
Vitals & Build
Standing at an impressive 6’8 and 308 lbs, Lewan is an imposing presence and is a proto-typical left tackle. His large frame could definitely add more weight and bulk to it, which shouldn’t be a problem once he gets into an NFL strength and conditioning program. Lewan is long and lean with a tremendous wingspan which is ideal for keeping defenders at bay in pass protection.
Even though he is listed at over 6’8 and 300 lbs. Lewan is a very smooth athlete for a player of his dimensions. He has quick feet and wonderful body control which becomes a necessity when handling edge rushers. He is one for the smoothest lineman in the country at making second level blocks on the move. His feet and hand quickness allow him to seamlessly move from one defender to another in blitz pick ups while in pass pro. He keeps his knees bent and is very quick off the ball in the running game, and can get into his sets in pass pro in the blink of an eye.
Run blocking is an area of Taylor Lewan’s game which needs some help. His technique is good, he keeps his feet under him and maintains his body control very well. When blocking at the second level or on the move, he does an excellent job of keeping his balance and rarely over extending. Lewan is a very smooth athlete for a player with his size, and he does an excellent job of transitioning from blocking one defender to another. He has trouble at times at the point of attack, often losing the leverage battle and allowing defenders to get underneath his blocks. Lewan must also get stronger in both his upper and lower body, he does not generate nearly enough push while drive blocking. He also has a bad habit of grabbing defenders when they’re close even if he doesn’t have to. Lewan gets by on the collegiate level due to his nasty demeanor on top of his athleticism, but once his strength gets caught up to speed he will be a serious problem for opposing defenders.
Lewan’s ability to protect a quarterbacks blindside is what will get him drafted early in round 1 and eventually make him millions of dollars. He is a natural left tackle and he is built perfectly for the position, his long arms coupled with quick feet make him quite an obstacle for opposing defenders. He has a nice kick slide but will struggle with an edge rusher who has power and speed. Lewan will occasionally over-compensate on a quicker defender and play the guessing game. He often guesses correctly, but when he does not he is easily knocked off balance and gets beaten. Lewan also struggles with hand fighting from time to time and is too easily disengaged from his assignment. When that happens, Lewan has a previously mentioned tendancy to grab or pull on the defender.
Lewan put together a fantastic game against dominating South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Lewan held Clowney in check and did not give up a sack all day, something that rarely happens to the Sophomore Heisman finalist. While Clowney is far and away the best defensive prospect available for 2014, he is a taste of what Lewan will have in store for him on the next level. Being able to hold his own against NFL level competition is a nice thing to have on film and Lewan has more than a couple notches on his belt.
Balance is one of the most important components of technique. When Taylor Lewan has his feet under him in a well balanced set, he is an elite tackle who is formidable in pass protection as well as the running game. But when Lewan over extends himself or tries to “guess” on a defender rather than maintaining and trusting his technique, he will get himself into trouble. Lewan is a smooth athlete with marginal strength at this point in his career, he is not a physically dominant player. His technique is what makes him an elite prospect.
In the Running game, Lewan needs to improve his initial punch when exploding out of his stance. Often times he will simply wall off a defender rather than clear out a lane for the ball carrier. Blocking on the move is one of his strengths and was put to use often with Denard Robinson at quarterback. Lewan locates defenders well and once he locks onto a linebacker or defensive back, it is game over.
In the passing game, Lewan’s feet and wingspan are what set him apart. He can handle speed rushers with the long arms and a nice kick slide, and he also does a terrific job anchoring against powerful players on a bull rush. Lewan handled the powerful Williams Gholston with great success, holding the future 4th round pick to two assisted tackles. Lewan’s pass protection played a huge role in Michigan allowing a Big Ten Conference low 15 sacks as a team.
Lewan has fantastic feet, which is a rare gift given the dimensions of the Wolverines left tackle. His ability to move his feet well is most evident when he is out in space blocking on the move. When blocking on the move or in the second level, Lewan does a terrific job of keeping a low center of gravity and driving through defenders. In pass protection, he rarely takes a false step. His kick slide is solid and he can move laterally at ease because of his foot speed. Lewan is a tailor made left tackle prospect, but his size and eventual strength make him a fit on either side of the line. His positional versatility and ability to move his feet well will come in handy if he is put into a position similar to all 3 of the 2013 draft’s top tackle prospects. Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, and Lane Johnson all played left tackle in their final year in school but all 3 project to be opening day starters at right tackle for their new NFL franchises.
Taylor Lewan does not have any limitations as far as what offensive system he can fit into, it can be argued that he will be a great fit in a number of different scenarios. Ideally, Lewan’s skillset would be best utilized in a zone blocking scheme like the offenses run by the Houston Texans or Washington Redskins, a scheme which relies on active and athletic blockers with great technique. Lewan has the potential to eventually grow into a ferocious run blocker, so a more traditional vertical passing and power running scheme like the system run by the Baltimore Ravens is also a solid fit. The bottom line on Lewan’s schematic capabilities is that he is a versatile enough player and athlete that he will not be taken off a single teams draft board due to playing style.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Central Michigan|
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. Notre Dame|
|Sat, Sept. 14||vs. Akron|
|Sat, Sept. 21||at Connecticut|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Minnesota|
|Sat, Oct. 12||at Penn State|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. Indiana|
|Sat, Nov. 2||at Michigan State|
|Sat, Nov. 9||vs. Nebraska|
|Sat, Nov. 16||at Northwestern|
|Sat, Nov. 23||at Iowa|
|Sat, Nov. 30||vs. Ohio State|
Looking at the 2013 schedule for the Michigan Wolverines, there is a lack of true difference making edge players set to face off with Taylor Lewan. There are however a couple of intriguing match ups which will test the Wolverines left tackle. The week 2 match up against Notre Dame will pit Lewan against 6’6 300 lb. Stephon Tuitt who accumulated 11 sacks a year ago for the Irish despite playing 5 technique in a 3-4 defense. Northwestern sack leader Tyler Scott will prove a formidable challenge late in the year and will get Lewan ready for a pivotal late season run. Closing out the season with the hated Ohio State Buckeyes, followed by what Lewan hopes to be a Big Ten Championship game and BCS Bowl game.
When looking at what NFL player Lewan compares most favorably to at this stage in their development, Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns stands out the most. Thomas, like Lewan is a technician who has excellent size and measurables to go with a natural feel for the position and the intelligence to know how to attack each opponent he faces. Lewan has more physical and power potential than Thomas did, but his technique is his ticket to becoming elite. Joe Thomas has never been a power player, but he has never missed a game or Pro Bowl selection since entering the league in 2007. If Lewan can have half of the impact that Thomas has had in his career, he will make some franchise and their quarterback very happy.
Even though Taylor Lewan is the highest rated senior offensive tackle returning in 2013, he has a tough road ahead of him to become the top tackle selected. He must first complete a strong season for the Wolverines and maintain his health, but once the season is over is when his biggest challengers will emerge. Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandijo and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews appear to be the biggest threats to leap frog Lewan. The 5th year senior will do everything in his power to earn his place as the drafts top offensive tackle, but as the league showed this April with three offensive tackles going in the top 4 picks: The NFL is a quarterback driven league and they need to be protected. Look for Lewan to go as early as the top 5 but no lower than the middle of the first round barring something drastically unforeseen.