The value of a great offensive tackle cannot be minimized. Last season, three of the first four picks in the first round were used to select tackles. The 2014 NFL draft could see something similar, and this talented group is led by Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.
Lewan contemplated declaring after his junior season, where he was likely in the mix to be a top 6-8 pick. I had Lewan as my top tackle during the season and while I understand he might not have been the first off the board, he was the tackle I thought was the most complete and NFL-ready of the class.
Let’s take a look at the good and the not-so-good in Lewan’s game and what makes him my top tackle in all of college football.
Physically, Lewan is a marvel. He ascribes to a strict fitness and diet program and it really shows. He’s 6-foot-8 and close to 310 pounds, and during no point in any game I have studied did I feel like fatigue was an issue. He is asked to do a lot of downfield work on screens and pulls, and he’s as fresh and explosive in the fourth quarter as he was in the first.
Lewan might not be breaking any records for the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, but his athleticism on the field is evident and is a very underrated part of his game. He sets up outside quickly, has a powerful base with good leverage and a tremendous punch.
As good as Lewan is as a pass protector, his run blocking might be even better. His power is unparalleled in this group among tackles. Lewan plays with a nasty attitude, and there’s nowhere it shows more then when he’s finishing off a defender on a run play. His strength is exceptional, and is doesn’t seem to matter who is lined up across from him — he plans to win.
On the downside of Lewan’s game, he does have some issues with inconsistency. I’ve not been able to put my finger on they why he has lapses where he struggles, but it seems like he has a harder time with inside pass rush moves, and it’s something I am going to monitor closely this season.
Some point to Lewan’s aggressive nature as a potential negative in that he attempts to push players around more than use proper technique, sometimes losing to faster, more athletic players, he can’t muscle around. I think that’s a fair point. Overall, Lewan wins far more matchups then he loses, so I’m not overly concerned.
There is much to love about Lewan’s game and in my opinion, he’s still got a long way to go. If you go back and watch 2011 tape and compare it to 2012, you can really see how much he’s improved. Even during the 2012 season, growth was evident.
Another aspect of Lewan’s game that impressed me is his ability to block different types of rushers in the same game. Against Alabama, the Crimson Tide used multiple pass rush schemes and Lewan did a great job against them all, whether it was a speed rush outside linebacker or a massive 5-technique end.
If Lewan can continue to develop as a player, he has a real shot to be a top-five pick in the 2014 NFL draft.