After a night’s sleep on the Taylor Lewan pick, it is time for me to expand on the brief thoughts I put up on him when the Titans picked him.
1. This is not a pick for 2014, but that’s not a surprise. One of the few worthwhile things Ruston Webster said before the draft was the need to think about the future. Given the state of the Titans’ depth chart, there was no pick to fill a ridiculously glaring need that would immediately make them better, like picking Chance Warmack last year. That general form of argument is why I was so willing to take a player like Anthony Barr or a highly talented corner like Justin Gilbert or Bradley Roby, Lewan fits with that line of thought.
2. I believe the Titans when they say Lewan was their best player available. I thought there was a better than even chance Lewan would be gone by the 11th pick. In terms of rankings of prospects, 11th is about the right place for him to go based on the general rankings I’ve seen. Some people thought he was better than the offensive tackles who went with the top two picks last year, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. (Then again, I recall at least one internet scouting type mentioning he had at least a dozen players graded higher than anybody last year.) Then again, thinking seriously about best player available as a drafting strategy gets … complicated.
3. When does Lewan make the Titans better? I don’t believe for a second the Titans will bench Michael Oher after paying him $20 million over four years this offseason. No way, no how. First, while Lewan may be a talented player, even rookie tackles normally face an adjustment period to the NFL-Warmack was supposed to be the greatest guard since sliced bread, or at least Steve Hutchinson, and we saw how he struggled as a rookie. Even if you think Oher could just be a below-average starter (roughly my expectation), that could easily enough for him to be better in 2014 than Lewan. And if Lewan will be playing left tackle in 2014, it may not make much sense to play him at a right tackle position he never played in college. Oh, and he’s not going to be a better left tackle than Michael Roos in 2014.
So, Lewan doesn’t make the Titans better in 2014. Michael Roos is in the last year of his deal. So he makes the Titans better in 2015? Well, maybe. Michael Roos would only be 32 (33 in October 2015), still plenty young enough to be an effective offensive tackle if he wishes to continue playing. Especially if he sits this year, I doubt Lewan would be better than 2015 Roos, who could be retained by use of the franchise tag; granted more money than they’d probably wish to pay him, but a possible alternative. I’d say 2016 is probably the first year this pick makes the Titans better.
4. Picking Lewan is consistent with the recent Titans’ first-round picks. In the past three years, the Titans have drafted a right guard, a slot receiver, and a quarterback who can’t throw. Selecting an offensive tackle who probably won’t play and doesn’t make them better doesn’t seem out of place at all.
5. On investing in the offensive line. Mike Munchak said a couple really scary/depressing things. There was the comment after his first practice about head coach about his unfamiliarity with the passing drills. There was the comment late in his tenure about how the penalty on the conversion attempt would have put the ball at the 1 1/2 yard line instead of the 1, when the NFL moved conversion attempts from the 3 to the 2 in 1994 or so. But the thing he said that scared me the most came when he said they thought they would have a good offensive line in 2012. I know that’s ancient history, but that was the offseason they signed an aged Hutchinson (who would end the season on injured reserve, as he did the previous two seasons) and were playing Leroy Harris at right guard, a position he’d never played before in his life. Keeping that in mind, drafting Lewan is part of their third attempt to build a powerful offensive line. 2012’s try failed miserably. 2013’s sort of succeeded but not in the way they wanted it to. Maybe this third try will succeed, the same way an earlier Titans regime did with Chris Johnson after missing on LenDale White and Chris Henry, but pardon me if I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.
6. On Lewan’s off the field issues. They exist, and I considered them potentially significant. There’s a tricky line with players between being extremely aggressive on the field and keeping themselves from screwing them up off the field. There’s a pending issue with multiple charges stemming from his involvement in an altercation after this year’s Michigan-Ohio State game. Lewan has said in multiple interviews he was trying to break something up, but was the only person charged. Starting his career off with some supplementary league discipline (it’s Roger Goodell, so who knows) would be great. There’s also allegedly threatening to rape a woman if she reports a sexual assault by his roommate; the police report is redacted, so this might not be Lewan but it’s widely believed to be him. (The roommate was subsequently expelled.) Webster said at his pre-draft press conference “It’s really how important football and winning are to them and will they do the things it takes for us to win for the Titans.” If Lewan goes all Richie Incognito, we could find out just how bulletproof Webster’s job status really is. Why bring up Incognito? Well, in addition to the off the field stuff, Lewan avoided a suspension for twisting an opponent’s face mask in 2013.
7. On Lewan the player. Former NFL D-lineman Steve White did some great scouting reports on a number of top prospects, and Lewan was one of the players he profiled. Between that and Lance Zierlein’s writeup, there’s nothing specific I can add from what I watched of Lewan, either from the games of his I watched at Michigan or what I’ve seen since the Titans drafted him. Short version: think the capability of being a Michael Roos-level player, but with more of nasty attitude in the run game. That’s the upside. A more probable ceiling is a good but not great starting left tackle who may shows flashes of dominance but leaves you wanting more and seemingly has a knack for the killer holding and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. He’s a worthy first-round pick, but not the sort of player it’s rare to find at #11.
8. If not Lewan, then who? The next pick was Odell Beckham. While I think wide receiver is a position of some need, I didn’t consider it a major one. The pick after that was Aaron Donald. Duplicative of Jurrell Casey, and I didn’t think he was a fit. Then Kyle Fuller. I was a big fan of Fuller as a player, and cornerback is definitely a need and a position I expect them to address in the draft. My only complaint about Fuller at #11 would have been the lack of ambition; I think he’s extremely likely to be a very good player, but has a very small chance of becoming a great player. It would have been nice to have The Magical Trade Down Fairy pay the Titans a visit, and they reportedly had discussions about that happening though they never came that close to fruition. I had no strong feelings for who they should pick aside from my general preference for that premium defensive player they keep never selecting.
I’ll have even more to say about Lewan after the dust settles, as I will about every player the Titans draft. Bottom line: I don’t like the pick much more than I did last night.
ADDENDUM (2014/05/09 1236 CT): Meant to mention this in the post, but forgot. Lewan was not on the grand List o’ Visitors and Workouts From Which All Titans Early Draft Picks Come. Paul Kuharsky noted after the draft, though, that Lewan had visited but his visit simply wasn’t reported. We found out most of the visits, but the Titans were not going to put out a full list. That’s why I put the odds at 80% for a first-round pick being on the list instead of 90%.