Bold statement to label a seventh-rounder as the best pick of the entire draft for an organization, and keep in mind that I do not think he will be the best player we drafted. However, in the seventh round, getting a prospect who can be a starter in his second year and a very solid pro in all facets of the game is a huge steal, and will go a long way to bolstering the Detroit Lions linebackers.
Lewis is a player big on name recognition. After being awarded the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award in 2008, he was an All-Big 12 first-teamer in 2008 and 2009. He decided to stay in school for his senior season despite being predicted to be a second-rounder last year in the draft, and big things, and maybe a first-round grade, were expected of him. However, Lewis did not play well and was injured for a large part of the season, and after a lackluster NFL Scouting Combine he ended up a seventh-round pick.
Despite his fall from grace, Lewis still has real talent. He improved all of his athletic marks from the scouting combine at his pro day, running a 4.75 40-yard dash at 246 lbs. He also looked much more comfortable in his larger frame in the positional drills, and looked almost as explosive and balanced as he did in his sophomore and junior tape.
This tape indicates a Day 2 draft pick. While he is not a particularly consistent tackler and struggled when blocked by bigger opponents, he showed the instincts, sideline-to-sideline range, coverage ability and block-shedding skills to be a starter at outside linebacker for a 4-3 defense.
Two of these attributes stand out to me as reasons why the Lions drafted him. First, his ability to shed blockers. It has been widely conjectured that by bulking up from 225 lbs Lewis will have removed most of his shedding issues against larger opponents, and he has always had the technique, aggression and long arms to get free.
In the Lions wide-nine defensive front, the linebackers are often required to shed people to get to the ball carrier because of the up the field mantra of the defensive linemen. Therefore, a player like DeAndre Levy, who is more of a finesse linebacker, was always going to struggle, and a linebacker like Travis Lewis could find a natural home. This and his instincts should let him be around the ball a lot if he starts.
He has also shown himself to be assured in coverage, and this would be valuable on a Detroit linebacker corps that starts Justin Durant. While Durant can thump with the best of them against the run, he is a real liability in coverage, so is really suited to a run down role. Therefore, having a linebacker who shows awareness and explosiveness in coverage would be the perfect player to bring on in obvious passing situations for Durant. This would give Lewis a chance to show his stuff.
In conclusion, I think that Lewis will be a starter for the Lions at strong-side linebacker by the start of 2013. With Levy and Durant both free agents then, and neither showing great skills last year, one or both could be moving on. Lewis is the player who will probably pick up the slack, and provide much better play in the process.
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