Should he have stayed or should he have gone?
It's been the eternal debate for high-value NFL Draft prospects for as long as players have been able to declare early.
After an All-American season in 2012, a lot of draft guru's and mock drafts had Michigan's Taylor Lewan as a Top 10 prospect.
That's millions of guaranteed dollars staring a person square in the face. It isn't easy to pass up, yet that's exactly what Lewan did.
He did it partly because of the tradition of top offensive linemen staying all four years and partly because he had unfinished business, according to MLive.com:
When you say NFL and the first round, that sounds amazing. But when you play at the University of Michigan, whether it's basketball, hockey, football, there's a tradition here and it's something you want to be part of. If I do what I need to do, I'll be able to play in the NFL for however long -- but you only get one more year of college.
Every kid grows up wanting to be a pro athlete -- most want to be pro football players -- and to know I had that opportunity was a great feeling. But like I said before, I have unfinished business here. Came in in 2009, and I want to finish with my class.
However, the 2013 season hasn't exactly gone as Lewan envisioned back in January when he made his choice to stay.
This season Lewan is the elder statesmen of what is a very young Michigan offensive line, one that features three underclassmen at the inside positions.
Said youth has had its ups and downs, and it's led to a ton of movement along the line all season long—with Lewan even switching sides of the line to help out the power run game at times.
After the offensive line gave up seven sacks and contributed to the run games' minus-48 yards in the loss to Michigan State, some have begun to wonder out loud if Lewan made the right choice by staying in school:
Money wasn't the reason he came back, but Taylor Lewan isn't doing much to help his draft stock this season.— Dave Hogg (@Stareagle) November 2, 2013
It's only natural that a returning All-American would have high expectations attached to his name and the performance of his team, but blaming Lewan for what is going on with a group of five players isn't totally fair.
Does he have a role to play in getting the line to gel and taking some of the criticism?
He'd be the first to tell you that the criticism is deserved and called himself and the rest of the Seniors out earlier this year, telling CBS Detroit the following:
It was embarrassing. Got to give it to Akron. They played a hard-fought game. We didn’t prepare. This is on the seniors. This is on the leadership of this team and extremely poor, poor leadership, especially on my side. Being the one offensive captain on this team, I put that offensive performance on myself. [Quarterback] Devin [Gardner] didn’t have enough time to throw, our running backs didn’t have enough holes, and that’s my fault.
However, not everything is on Lewan. At some point the young linemen have to start stepping up and playing like they're gaining the experience.
Instead things have only gotten worse as the season has gone on for the offensive line.
After giving up only 12 sacks prior to the Michigan State game, the Wolverines now rank eighth in the conference with 19 sacks given up.
Yet, despite the struggles of the line as a whole, it hasn't really damaged Lewan's draft stock as much as people are thinking.
ESPN draft guru Todd McShay had this to say to the Detroit Free Press earlier this week:
I’ve got him as the ninth overall player/prospect with kind of a middle-first-round grade. There’s been a little bit of inconsistency. But I still think he’s, obviously, one of the top 10 players. I think he’s one of the premier players in this class. I like him.
McShay also mentioned in that Detroit Free Press article the difference between Lewan and some of the other tackles that are or could be in the 2014 NFL Draft—technique:
I know he’s not the most athletic guy, but there are some guys who know the angles, have the effort and have the toughness that know the technique and do all the little things to execute their assignments. Let’s put it this way: (junior) Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama is a lot more physically gifted, but Taylor Lewan’s tape is a lot better this year.
Lewan's head coach is also amongst the group claiming Lewan is having a better season than in 2012.
Hoke says Taylor Lewan is playing better than he did last year & doesn’t know who is saying he’s hurting his draft stock.— Andy Coppens (@andycoppens) November 5, 2013
The numbers also back up Lewan having his best season as an individual player.
According to Mark Synder's article, Lewan is grading out as the top offensive lineman in line coach Darrell Funk’s 17-year career. He’s also grading out more than 5% higher than his 2012 All-America season.
That's the disconnect that some are missing. While the offensive line is a unit, when looking at a player's ability to play at the next level it is all about the individual.
If you are to believe the draft gurus and his coaches than Lewan's draft stock is no worse than it was a season ago, and it may even be better thanks to his own tape this season.
*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.