Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio shares its pre-draft scouting report on Titans running back Dion Lewis.
That’s the best phrase to encapsulate the running backs from the 2011 NFL Draft class. I thought 13 backs where draftable talents:
- Mark Ingram: An intelligent runner with as high of a floor as any running back prospect I had watched to date.
- Ryan Williams: A precocious talent whose hard-cutting style concerned me to the point that I invoked Cadillac Williams’ fate.
- Bilal Powell: I thought Powell would become an every-down runner. This was an against-the-grain ranking but not as crazy today as it seemed in 2011.
- DeMarco Murray: A risk due to injuries, I highlighted his intelligence, toughness, and potential to become a lead back with special production.
- Delone Carter: The Syracuse runner reminded me of LaMont Jordan, an excellent talent who never fully grew into his talents.
- Shane Vereen: I wasn’t fond of his balance through contact but saw a contributor.
- Mikel Leshoure: Considered the safest prospect in this class by many, I thought he was too easy to tackle and didn’t find the secondary creases well.
- Daniel Thomas: I like his strength and agility, but had concerns about pad level, ball security, and acclimating quick enough to earn a team’s confidence.
- Chad Spann: I didn’t think he’d get drafted but I liked his decision-making, agility, and versatility. He bounced around the league before suffering a career-ending injury in the CFL.
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- Kendall Hunter: I didn’t think he trusted slower-developing run plays and he wasn’t a great yards-after-contact runner. I saw a special teams option who could contribute to a committee.
- Johnny White: I liked his versatility and thought he might be a late-bloomer. It didn’t happen.
- Jamie Harper: The big back had good feet but I had concerns about how physical he could be between the tackles.
Ingram, Powell, Murray, and Dion Lewis developed into quality players but with the exception of Murray, it took long enough for these backs to show their talent. Jacquizz Rodgers was just outside my top 13. Other than Stevan Ridley my 21st-ranked back — and in my opinion, a player I didn’t evaluate well — I most of the backs who had the talent to earn NFL playing time were on the list above.
Lewis was one of the most intriguing. Here’s a brief summary of his game from the 2011 RSP.
10. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh (5-6, 193)
Former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has been a part of teams with Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams, and LeSean McCoy. He reportedly saw four plays of Lewis in high school and told his staff to offer the back a scholarship despite the fact Tulane and Miami (Oh.) were the only major programs recruiting the back.
Lewis has most of the important skills to develop into a productive starting runner in the NFL. His short stature and thin frame make it risky to assume Lewis is capable of adding more muscle to his body, especially compared to runners with more physical potential. He also lacks the third gear or finishing power to punish runners.
However, Lewis is too good between the tackles not to take seriously. He has the patience to the hole and he can press the crease before hitting it. He has the burst to attack the lane and get to the second level and I think his initial quickness is the strength of his game. He can make the first defender miss and as string moves together in the open field.
Lewis is deceptively strong and he can push the pile forward with his leg drive. He also has an intuitive understanding of angles and he can slip tackles by moving with the momentum of a defender diving at him. This is something you most frequently see from veteran runners like LaDainian Tomlinson. Lewis also catches the football with his hands and he works back to his quarterback when his teammate is in trouble.
I think Lewis could develop into a player of James Brook’s skill sets. Brooks was a deceptively good interior runner. If Lewis can add another 10 pounds to his legs and core, he could become a lead back. If not, he has enough skill to contribute as a solid committee back.
I also mentioned Lewis as one of the most conceptually talented backs in this class:
Lewis has a true knack for setting up defenders to gain creases, avoid direct hits, and gain leverage at the point of contact he initiates to drive defenders backward despite the size disadvantage. If there is a smaller runner in this draft I think is worth the risk of defying his size limitations to become a productive player between the tackles in the NFL, Lewis is it.