Is Lewan The Next Great Michigan Tackle?
Taylor Lewan has been viewed as the next great tackle out of Michigan, its first top-tier left tackle since Jake Long in 2008. Lewan has the size teams covet (6-foot-8, 308 pounds), has started 35 games during his Michigan career and was named first-team All-Big Ten in 2012 as well a Walter Camp All-American. Lewan considered entering the 2013 draft before he chose to return to the Wolverines for his senior year.
Reviewing his games over his first couple of seasons, you can see the potential for Lewan becoming a dominant tackle in the league. His 2012 season, despite the accolades, did reveal weakness in his game. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good player. But Lewan clearly is not at the level Long was at the same point in his career, and he is not even at the level of the first five tackles selected in the 2013 draft. What this season poses for Lewan is the chance to live up to the hype and play to a level on par with his accolades when the microscope is on.
Lewan faced several top defenders in 2012: Adrian Hubbard from Alabama, Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State and Jadaveon Clowney from South Carolina. In each of these matchups, against elite athletic talents similar to what he will face in the NFL, Lewan was very inconsistent. In the Ohio State game, Hankins was moved to the outside across from Lewan and controlled him. Lewan also gave up a first quarter sack to the Buckeyes true freshman defensive end Adolphus Washington. He was praised for his performance against Michigan State’s William Gholston, but a strong showing versus an underachieving player should not be the measuring stick. After evaluating the Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan State and South Carolina games, I have broken down Lewan's strengths and the weaknesses he will need to work on before he can be mentioned in the same breath as the 2013 tackle class.
Lewan has adequate athletic ability. He has the prototypical frame, length and strength to compete in the NFL. He demonstrates good short area explosion and has a quick first step allowing him to get to the second level quickly. He moves well in space, though at times gets out of position against more athletically gifted linebackers. His feet are slow in pass protection, making him look uncoordinated and off balance. Lewan plays high and bends at the waist, getting his shoulders in front of his feet and lunging. He ends up on the ground far too much for an elite caliber player.
Lewan catches defenders rather than punching them. He does not utilize his arm length, short-arming his punches. He will drop his hands and lose control to the defender. Lewan does have a powerful grip when he has proper hand placement. He can control opponents when he is able to extend his long arms and latch on.
As a run blocker, he gets after defenders showing flashes of athleticism on the move and in space. He looks fluid on pulls, locating blocks and is capable of creating nice running alleys for the Wolverines backs. He can be inconsistent on the second level, sometimes whiffing on second-level players. He consistently engages defenders on running plays getting a good push from the line of scrimmage. Lewan keeps his feet moving through contact on blocks, driving defenders downfield. His short area movement allows him to wall off and seal defensive lineman. He displays a nasty streak blocking in the run game.
Lewan needs some technique work in his pass sets. If Lewan doesn't initiate contact immediately getting a lock with his hands into the rusher's chest, he becomes prone to sudden outside-inside moves and his subpar quickness is exposed. Clowney really uncovered Lewan’s deficiencies against elite rushers in their bowl matchup. What’s most wearisome for Lewan was the amount of hunching at the waist and overextension he showed on film. He shows flashes of a good kick-step and anchor. He has a strong ability to reanchor and defend counter moves from pass rushers, and was solid against weaker opponents. When he gets the initial punch in first and gets extension he is tough to beat.
Taylor Lewan is a powerful player that looks more natural as a run blocker. He is a true mauler in the run game and can finish blocks with a nasty attitude. Lewan has the confidence to dominate his opponent on every down. Having been a three-year starter already, he has played against good competition. Upon further evaluation, he does not appear at this point to be the plug-and-play tackle an NFL team maybe looking for in the 2014 draft.
The measure of an NFL left tackle is the consistency with which he can protect a team's most coveted players from elite rushers. Lewan has the 2013 season to make the improvements needed to be considered a sure-fire first round draft selection, but at this juncture he is more hype than proven commodity.