Isaiah Lewis has been a four year contributor for the Michigan State Spartans. After being a backup and special teams player as a freshman, Lewis started as a safety and played 39 games over the next three years, missing a pair as a senior. Lewis’s experience shows as he is a savvy, experienced player who has become a nice run defender for the Spartans under head coach Mark Dantonio.
Projecting to the NFL, Lewis looks like a strong safety that is at his best coming up or playing in the box. He shows great instincts and ability to read and react to chase down plays and being like an extra linebacker for the defense. Lewis can play in coverage but he does let too many players get behind him and will have trouble staying with opponents in man coverage at times. As a result, he projects as a day three pick could end up playing early in his career because of what he is able to do as a run defender who can also help on special teams.
Vitals & Build
Lewis measured in at 5’10” 205lbs at the Reese’s Senior Bowl with a solid build for the safety position. He shows a good amount of strength for the position and is able to maximize it well. Lewis has solid straight line speed but has some trouble when it comes to flipping his hips and making sharp turns. The best thing Lewis can do for himself is improve his fluidity and improve his agility, but he should be able to continue getting stronger as well.
Lewis shows the ability to be a great tackler. He is consistent with how he will wrap opponents up and when he gets a hold of the ball carrier, they are not getting away from him even if that means he needs help getting them to the ground. Lewis has also shown that he can keep his feet when he tackles with the ability to make impact tackles that can really deliver a pop.
Occasionally, Lewis will get lazy with his technique and go for a highlight hit he really does not need. He tends to still wrap up which is good but will lunge at times. With the strength and pop he shows in his tackles doing it the right way, it seems over the top to try to take a riskier approach.
Lewis does a good job of working to stay in front of the ball carrier, breaking down and making a good tackle as opposed to trying to take the easy way out and go from the side.
He is one of the better technical tacklers in this year’s group of defensive backs but he could be great if he trusts his technique every time.
Lewis is extremely aggressive as a run defender and seems to be looking for the run first and second in his reads. When he thinks run, he comes downhill hard, so he can get victimized by fakes at times. Nevertheless, when he is right, he is able to close fast and get into the mix of the play without trouble.
Not only does he tend to have a good sense of where plays are going and reading, he does a really good job taking angles. Lewis does not just run at the opponent but tends to run at them and slide so that he is going to hit them square on in the chest. And he has shown he is not afraid to tackle size.
His tackling form can slip at times but he has shown he can take on the biggest running backs in college football without resorting to launching and just making a good form tackle with his legs driving them.
The other part of Lewis’s instincts that tend to show up is his natural sense of how to slip through trash and work his way to the play. He knows how to contort his body and get skinny when needed to chase down ball carriers.
Lewis has shown he can take on blocks, but needs to do a better job of shedding them. Because he is a safety, he tends to be unaccounted for and is free to get to the ball carrier, which has allowed him to make a lot of plays in his career.
Lewis has shown he can help in coverage but it is not nearly the strength his play is against the run. At times, he shows the ability to run with and stay with tight ends as well as being able to contribute in zone.
The biggest problem for Lewis is whether in man or zone, he lets too many people get behind him. He has trouble flipping his hips quickly and opponents are able to eat up cushion against him and run by him. In zone, he can try to sit on underneath plays and can get caught with cement shoes as players run behind him down the middle of the field. There are too many examples where Lewis is desperately trying to catch up with a receiver and make a last ditch effort to stop the play.
Lewis is at his best when he can come up and defend the short zone, execute robber looks and is able to be physical with receivers. Because of his toughness as a run defender, there could be teams who use Lewis as a sub package linebacker. He likes to flow with the play, read the quarterback’s eyes and close on the football in front of him, which is great, but risky when he is a backline defender. With help over the top, Lewis has shown he can be a nice option as an underneath defender.
Lewis has experience playing as a deep safety, man coverage both from the back end and in the slot. He has done a little of everything, but needs to get better and more consistent to be a regular contributor. Lewis will get caught on play action and fakes because he is such an aggressive run defender and will take false steps when trying to diagnose where he needs to go on the field. When he sees it and he is right, he has some pretty good range.
Lewis is able to make plays on the football when he is able to get to it. He has shown he can knock the ball away and intercept it when given the opportunity, but the issue is generating those opportunities.
Lewis has experience on special teams and should be able to help there in the NFL, especially on coverage teams because he is a good tackler.
Lewis appears to be at his best as when he can play in the box or coming downhill to make plays. The closer to the line of scrimmage, the more comfortable he appears to be. Lewis is a safety but seems to have the heart of a linebacker.
As a result, Lewis could see some time as a sub package linebacker. This would allow a team to have credibility against the run while having a little more athleticism to play underneath coverage whether it is zone or man.
Lewis’s game might be similar to that of Shawn Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals. Williams came into the league as a strong safety and in the box defender like Lewis will. Currently, Williams is trying to earn a starting spot and has been a special teams player which may be where Lewis starts. The Bengals drafted Williams to eventually start, picking him in round 3 and while Lewis may not go that high, he nevertheless could end up being a starter as well.
Isaiah Lewis is an old school strong safety. He plays like a linebacker with his aggressiveness, instincts and willingness to go heads up in the hole as a tackler. Lewis has shown ability but needs to get more comfortable and consistent when it comes to playing in coverage, working to avoid getting beat deep. The potential is there for him to develop into a starter at the next level, but he appears suited to play depth early on in his career. As a result, Lewis projects as a third day pick that could be intriguing as a run defender or a sub package linebacker.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com