Had Taylor Lewan entered the 2013 NFL Draft, he would have all but certainly been a top-five pick of the first round.
Did he miss an opportunity?
Will he be as attractive to NFL teams next spring?
Probably—maybe even more so than he was just months ago.
As a junior in 2012, the Michigan Wolverines left tackle proved that he was indeed among the elite at his position. A fruitful NFL career was put on hold when Lewan decided to return to Michigan for his senior year.
But Lewan made it clear after the 2013 draft that he’s comfortable in his own skin and determined to complete four years at Michigan.
"That (NFL) stuff's over," Lewan recently told MLive.com’s Kyle Meinke. "It was cool Jan. 9, or whenever I said I was staying. That was a cool experience -- but I did it for my team. And now that that's over, my focus is on Team 134.
"It's not about, 'I stayed.' Because if I stay and we go 3-9, then it doesn't matter I came back. You're just in college for one more year. My focus is a Big Ten championship."
Some thought that Lewan made the right call by scheduling a return. There were others, however, who were in favor of him declaring for the draft in order to collect a huge first-round contract.
Striking while the proverbial iron is hot is of high priority.
In hindsight, Lewan didn’t exactly make a huge mistake by skipping this year’s youth spree; he’s projected by WalterFootball.com to go as the sixth pick of the 2014 draft (Arizona Cardinals). The mock draft site has three tackles selected within the first eight picks next April (three in first four in 2013).
Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, a 6’5”, 305-pound senior-to-be, is projected as the fourth overall pick (Tennessee Titans) next spring. Depending on performance, Lewan, a 6’8”, 310-pound powerhouse, could slip ahead of Matthews and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandijio, the potential No. 5 pick.
The following is WalterFootball’s assessment of Lewan:
The Arizona beat writers repeatedly tried to tell everyone that the Cardinals felt content at the tackle position, given that Levi Brown was coming back from injury and Bobby Massie improved tremendously in the second half of his rookie campaign (he didn't allow a single sack after Week 8).
That's all good, but what if Brown struggles again? Left tackle will definitely be in play, so Arizona may consider Taylor Lewan, who probably would have been the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft had he declared.
Lewan’s value for this past draft was incredibly high. Michigan’s 8-5 season didn’t taint his stock by any means. There are times, though, when a lackluster year from the team as a whole can diminish a guy like Lewan’s worth.
Being a tackle, his success is on predicated on his quarterback’s performance and production from the running backs. Lewan played with new quarterback Devin Gardner for the final five games of the 2012 season.
Gardner did well while Lewan covered his blind side.
Although Michigan didn’t win a Big Ten title, it was in the race until the very end of the fall. A Gardner-led Wolverines offense looks capable of challenging yet again this season.
Lewan told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that Michigan’s prestige and potential motivates him:
Coming into a room and expecting excellence, talking about a Big Ten championship every single day, knowing we have 42 championships and there needs to be a 43rd, that repetition, talking about it, talking about it, it makes you think. Now I know more about the tradition here. I know more about the winged helmet, 115,000 people at the game, the largest stadium in the country. There’s a tractor or something under the stadium because it fell in while they were building.
The little things, it becomes a part of you.
Lewan Should Be Top-Five Pick, Regardless of Michigan’s Season
There are at least two sides to every scenario, a potential outcome that could go either way given particular circumstances.
Let’s say that Michigan has another average year in 2013—that won’t necessarily sandbag Lewan’s stock. As long as he’s steady, perception of Lewan probably won’t change much.
Eric Fisher was the No. 1 pick of the 2013 draft. The 6’7”, 310-pound former 2-star recruit out of Rochester Stoney Creek had a productive four-year career at Central Michigan, a decent MAC program. The Chippewas’ lack of recognition didn’t hinder Fisher’s ability to get noticed by pro scouts.
Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M was the second pick. He was regarded as one of the nation’s top left tackles, but the Aggies’ stellar season led by “Johnny Football”, star quarterback Johnny Manziel, certainly helped Joeckel in the long run. His quarterback won the Heisman Trophy and that reflects well on the offensive linemen.
Michigan has a Heisman-hopeful quarterback of its own. Gardner has been in the discussion about this year’s candidates. At the very least, he could win Big Ten Player of the Year honors if he has the season most expect him to have.
At this stage, Lewan looks like a winner on both fronts—leaving or staying in college. He’s a solid prospect, and the only thing that could weaken his NFL chances would be injury. He’s taken his share of bumps and bruises—just like the rest of his teammates—but has proven durable and reliable.
There is no reason not to expect Lewan’s name to be called during the early goings of the 2014 NFL Draft—even top-five early.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81