Let's talk about Taylor Lewan.
The man is a highly polarizing figure not only on the draft boards of many NFL teams, but also well within the Michigan fan base. Lewan's purported "nasty streak" should be no mystery at this point. He started as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and quickly became one of the most infuriating youngsters we had to watch because of his frequent personal foul penalties. Four years later Lewan is bigger, stronger, faster, a much a better technician, but still pretty much the same guy.
Sure, he's matured a great deal, and he has significantly cut down on the personal fouls -- at least, when you look at the average. Lewan was barely a blip on the radar in terms of fouls in 2011 and 2012. He backslid a bit in 2013 because, well, things weren't going so well, it was his senior year, and he really, really didn't want to lose to Michigan State again. Obviously, that's not an excuse.
Then of course there are the reports that Lewan is facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly assaulting two Ohio State fans following the M-OSU game. Lewan maintained at the NFL combine that he was not involved in the fight, and that the only reason why he's being linked to it is because of his reputation. (Also the fact that Ohio State fans are pressing charges against a Michigan player should not surprise anyone.)
As of this writing, Lewan has not yet been found guilty and certainly has not yet been sentenced, and this could turn out like it did for Josh Furman a year ago, when he was cleared of all charges. ESPN is also reporting that his arraignment has been pushed to May 19, which would be after the draft anyway.
As much as I loved it when Taylor Lewan made the decision to come back for his fifth year, I can admit that he has a long way to go in convincing would-be NFL fan bases that he's not the second coming of Ritchie Incognito. Personally, here's what I think: if you don't have a problem drafting Johnny Manziel, who has also been publicized for "character issues," then you really shouldn't have a problem with drafting Taylor Lewan. I can admit that there is a certain level of risk associated with taking Lewan, but no more than anyone else. What I'm saying is if you take Lewan, you're getting a player who plays with a nasty streak and also everything that comes along with that.
Lewan's off-the-field issues may be a concern, but he's generally considered a first-round talent. Some have even gone so far as to say he's talented enough to be taken in the top ten picks of the 2014 draft. Though SB Nation and several specific analysts consider him to be the third-best offensive tackle behind Auburn's Greg Robinson (no, not that Greg Robinson) and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Lewan nonetheless had a phenomenal outing at the NFL combine, and if anything he showed that the disparity between himself, Robinson, and Matthews is too close to call rather than that he is a clear No. 3.
Sports News Analysis provides a pretty thorough breakdown of his profile, from a purely football analysis standpoint:
So now let's talk about where Taylor Lewan might go in the NFL draft. Even before all this news about the Buckeye fans pressing charges broke, SB Nation had him going as low as the No. 27 pick to the New Orleans Saints. He was subsequently bumped up to the No. 9 pick to the Buffalo Bills, but in lieu of the charges, no one really knows anything at this point. The general consensus from draft analysts appears to be that the news of Lewan's charges will not impact his draft stock.
He still seems like a pretty solid lock for the first round, and a fringe pick for the top ten. Then again, Lewan's off-the-field struggles could create such a problem that he's removed from many NFL teams draft boards altogether.
However, a lot of NFL teams need help on their offensive line, and regardless of his reputation, Lewan is still an elite offensive tackle in the draft. So here's a brief run-down of the places he might end up and why:
New York Giants (No. 12 overall pick)
The Giants' offensive line definitely needs some help, and Lewan could either provide a spot at right tackle or insurance for Will Beatty at left tackle, assuming there's no shuffling before Lewan would get there. SB Nation Giants' blog Big Blue View laid out the pros and cons of what they think Lewan brings to the draft, and whether or not he'd be a good fit. Pros? Nasty streak. Cons? Nasty streak.
This is a pretty likely scenario and about as safe a bet as you could make. Lewan is certainly deserving of a top ten selection, but there are enough other elite prospects that if he falls just out of the top ten it's not a total shock. Also, according to Big Blue View, longtime draft "guru" Mike Mayock commented on the Giants possibly taking Lewan at No. 12 and said they "should sprint to the podium" to draft him if he's available.
Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15 overall pick)
I may hate the Steelers with the fury of a thousand suns, but even I have to admit they are a ridiculously good fit for Lewan. Pittsburgh is known for its tough, blue-collar type people with a hard-nosed, push-you-aside, come-after-you philosophy that wants to grind you into dust. That's Taylor Lewan. He's got the mean streak that fits into the Steelers' "brick wall" offensive line like a perfectly formed piece to a jigsaw puzzle. What's more, Pittsburgh is looking for an offensive tackle. If they passed on Lewan in the event he was available at No. 15, I would be utterly speechless.
Word from the folks who follow Pittsburgh is that the Steelers are certainly interested in Lewan. However, like everyone who has weighed in on him, some Steelers fans are somewhat skeptical about his off-the-field concerns and his overall aggressive demeanor -- which surprises me, since you'd think he'd be exactly the type of guy they want protecting Ben Roethlisberger. During free agency, the Steelers also re-signed offensive tackle Guy Whimper to a one-year deal, but that was a depth move for the short term and should have little effect if any on their first round selection.
Atlanta Falcons (No. 6 overall pick)
Falcons fans have voiced their opinion that fixing the offensive line should be the franchise's No. 1 priority, so in addition to moves they might make in the offseason, expect Atlanta to take an offensive tackle early in this year's draft. Although most mock draft analysts are slating either Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson to be selected by the Falcons at No. 6, the Atlantic Journal-Constitution's blog caught up with the NFL Network's Bucky Brooks, who said he believes Atlanta will select Lewan over the other two top offensive tackles.
Reactions to this prospect by Falcons fans have generally been positive. Falcons message boards entertained a spirited debate about Lewan's ability, and most were excited by the idea that Atlanta would draft him. Though some doubt that Atlanta will even take a tackle as their first pick, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has indicated that he's looking at the draft's best offensive linemen for their first round selection, and he is "very high" on Lewan. Don't be surprised of the Falcons draft Lewan here.
Buffalo Bills (No. 9 overall pick)
And not just because he's there in SB Nation's mock draft as of March 17, or because draft guru Todd McShay has Lewan going to the Bills in his latest either. SB Nation's Bills blog Buffalo Rumblings has Lewan among their Top 9 choices for their ninth overall pick, and according to BuffaloBillsDraft.com, he has long been a target to watch and a favorite for Buffalo's first round draft pick. In addition, Buffalo Bills fans really liked what they saw from Lewan after the NFL combine.
The Bills certainly have a need at tackle and in general on the offensive line, and Lewan presents an opportunity for them to select a franchise tackle who could be with the team for years. However, in my opinion, this is the least "most likely" scenario because this is precisely the type of pick that the Bills should make but probably won't, which contributes to the reason why Buffalo continues to be a struggling NFL team. Lewan himself has stated that he'd be thrilled with any team that picks him, and that includes the Buffalo Bills. He'd be a mainstay for them.
Pretty Much Anybody in the First Round
The Dolphins (No. 19) would probably kill to draft Lewan if they could, and they've regretted losing Jake Long since he went to Rams after Miami released him. The Cowboys (No. 16) have expressed interest in Lewan as well but at this point doubt that he'd be available. Those who don't put much stock in Lewan -- likely because of Michigan's 7-6 season, which is understandable -- project him to go late in the first round, at somewhere like New Orleans (No. 27) or the Bengals (No. 24), both of which are said to have a need at tackle. And if you're a crazy person you can posit that the Lions might take him at No. 10, even though they need playmakers desperately in the defensive secondary.
If the Saint Louis Rams deem him the best of the top three offensive tackles, they could take him with the second overall pick, though most experts would consider that a surprising choice. He'd be playing alongside Jake Long(!!!). Longtime actual draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said a month ago that it's possible.
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