In the lead-up to the draft we’re going to look at some of the linebacker prospects that could be on Seattle’s radar beyond after round one. The Seahawks are looking for more speed in the front seven and with David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill both free agents, linebacker could become a key need. We started this series with California’s Mychal Kendricks and today we’ll look at Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis.
Game tape vs Texas
Game tape vs Nebraska
Lewis comes into the NFL with a few concerns. He has some injury history including persistent back problems, minor knee surgery and having to be carted off in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl with a neck injury. The coaches at Oklahoma recommended he turned pro after an academic-related suspension for missing class. This goes alongside more favorable reviews about his leadership and a style of play that earned the nickname ‘the hammer’.
Oklahoma predominantly used Lewis as a pass rusher, often lining him up on the edge of a four-man front of even in certain three-man looks. At 6-2 and 253lbs he’s going to have to transition to OLB – probably as a WILL in the 4-3 – but an impressive 36 reps of the bench press in Indianapolis shows he has more strength than his frame would suggest. His surprising strength will help avoid being engulfed by blockers at the next level and 4.68 speed will help when rushing the passer. Generally, he’s a thoroughly modern defensive prospect who can line up in many different positions to have an impact.
The element of mystery comes with the fact he’ll transition to a new position at the next level, so judging him as a pass rusher makes a definite grade tough to come by. He’ll need quick instincts to play linebacker and generally looking at the tape there’s room for improvement. He’s more of a ‘pin your ears’ back type and when he is asked to make a judgement to react to the ball carrier or to help set the edge rather than dip inside, he’s sometimes on his heels or dwelling a little longer than preferable to make the right call. He makes up for it with raw athleticism, but to avoid being a liability at the next level he needs to show a natural field IQ – something Mychal Kendricks scores very highly on.
He appears quickly in pursuit when asked to chase the ball so playing from a deeper position may afford him the opportunity to flash greater instinct as things develop. Kendricks benefits greatly from avoiding the cluster of bodies at the LOS, identifying a gap and exploding. Lewis’ combination of speed, strength and hard hitting may make for an even better overall package – and he’s flashed a greater playmaking knack during his career with the Sooners that could translate even more to the OLB position.
Lewis’ tackling ability is first rate and he’s a secure, wrap-up tackler who has the wide base and power you want to see for the position. His nickname is well earned and with extra time to let the plays unfold, he could become quite a feared player in the second level and in underneath coverage. He’s a little tight in the hips which will limit his effectiveness in coverage especially in the slot, but he’ll also suffer slightly in 1vs1 situations in the open field.
The one thing he brings to the table that the likes of Kendricks, Keenan Robinson and others don’t is proven pass-rushing quality. We’ve seen the guy playing defensive end for a powerhouse school and be effective. Whoever drafts Lewis will feel confident using him at the LOS on third downs and will create packages to get him pressuring the QB in obvious passing situations. He could develop into a Julian Peterson-style rusher eventually and while Peterson entered the league much more polished overall, Lewis has the same kind of tools for third-down play calls. I like the fact he isn’t totally reliant on the edge rush and will dip inside and look to keep a tackle guessing. If the Seahawks are looking for a linebacker with experience as a pass-rusher, Lewis has that – even if the need to transition will make him more of a project than other featured players.