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Terrell Lewis can be the Rams’ next great edge rusher, if he stays healthy

Retired defensive end Stephen White thinks Terrell Lewis might have the highest ceiling of any draft prospect in years.

An illustration of NFL edge prospect Terrell Lewis in a stance at Alabama, superimposed on a blue and white background with “SCOUTING” and “X”s and “O”s in aqua lettering
Terrell Lewis is an exciting 2020 NFL Draft prospect despite his injury history.

The Los Angeles Rams selected Terrell Lewis with the 84th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Lewis ahead of the draft.

Former Alabama edge rusher Terrell Lewis missed the majority of his college career with injuries. One of those was a torn ACL, which is pretty serious. Last season, he missed two games due to injury and elected not to play in Alabama’s bowl game against Michigan. In the four games I watched for this breakdown, he didn’t record a single sack, either. His technique in all phases also needs a little bit of work.

How, then, can I say with a straight face that three years from now we may be debating whether Lewis or Ohio State’s Chase Young is the best edge rusher to come out of this draft?

I’m glad you asked!

First off, let’s talk about Lewis’ size.

I have never been more thrown off by a player’s jersey number as I was while watching Lewis run around with that No. 24 on. But it wasn’t just that. While the guy is 6’5 and weighed in at 262 pounds at the combine, he actually is built like a strong safety. Well, until you see him standing beside an actual strong safety.

Sometimes I’d miss where Lewis was on the field because my brain would just reject the notion that I was supposed to be looking for a dude wearing No. 24 rushing the passer.

And just to be clear, Lewis is a hair taller and just about the same weight as Young. Lewis’ arms are actually a little longer than Young’s, as well. Needless to say, Lewis has the size to play the position, even if it’s sometimes hard to tell just looking at him. Hell, both he and Young are kinda like a Create-A-Player when it comes to their stature.

What Lewis does well: Making plays from everywhere

In addition to being pretty much the perfect size for an edge rusher, Lewis also possesses uncommon athletic ability. That is evidenced by Alabama using him in so many different ways. He lined up on the edge and rushed the passer, and he dropped back into coverage quite a bit as well.

And I’m not talking about some bullshit, half-assed zone drops. He played man-to-man out of the backfield several times, and looked damn good doing it for the most part.

Alabama also had him blitzing both from off the ball, and up at the line of scrimmage for the double A-gap variety. The Tide even stuck him inside as a hand-in-the-dirt three-technique a few times and he acquitted himself well there, too.

Lewis looked pretty much the same no matter what, and he is going to be able to make plays wherever he lines up in the NFL.

Some people don’t think about power when they are talking about athleticism, but I believe it all goes together. Lewis may not be the strongest defensive end you have ever seen, but I watched him stand his ground against a lot of bigger dudes, so I have no worries about him being strong enough to play the position. In fact, when he really learns how to convert his speed into power on a more consistent basis, that may end up being one of the strongest parts of his game, pun intended.

Then there’s Lewis’ technique. I know some of you are thinking, “Wait a minute, I thought Steve said his technique was a problem,” but that’s just because you can’t read. What I actually said was his technique “needs some work” because it does, but that’s so he can transform from a good player to potentially a great one. Remember, I’m not comparing him to some sloppy dude here. Young is one of the better pro-ready prospects I’ve ever broken down.

Lewis isn’t where Young is now, but Lewis’ jump on the next level could be astounding. One of the main reasons is because he just hasn’t played that much football in the last several years. The lack of game reps seems to be reflected in his inconsistent technique at times.

Most of the basic stuff he was asked to do was no problem for Lewis. He has a good get-off whether standing up or out of a three-point stance. He also comes off and gets full extension well when taking on blockers. He changes direction well after the snap and has a pretty good feel for the game.

It isn’t like he is a bad player as is. But I can see him being so much more.

Where Lewis can improve: Sharpening his technique

While Lewis takes on blockers pretty well, there were too many times when he didn’t escape off the block to make the tackle until it was too late. That’s the kind of thing you normally get better at as you get more game reps. It’s not that he couldn’t escape off of blocks, but it was more of a timing issue. And sometimes probably just laziness, trying to reach out for a tackle instead of, say, making a rip move first to clear himself from the blocker and put himself in better position to take the ball carrier down.

That also applies to Lewis as a pass rusher, and rushing the passer is probably where he has the most room to grow. Don’t get me wrong, I thought he showed a nice array of moves for a college edge rusher, and there is already a lot of good stuff to work with for any NFL defensive line coach. It’s just that with a little bit of polish, Lewis will be able to convert more of his pressures into sacks.

For instance, Lewis has the makings of being dominant with his long-arm move — and that’s where having longer arms come in pretty handy. He did a really good job of coming off the ball like he was going to attempt a speed rush to get the offensive tackles bailing out, then stabbing them right in the chest with his inside hand and jolting them backward.

The problem would come when Lewis wouldn’t go ahead and escape off the move before the blocker could recover. He would end up stuck too long on the block, which would give the quarterback time to either throw the ball, or step up in the pocket and away from his pressure. Once he gets more consistent with using his outside hand to swipe and then finish with a rip or arm-over, offensive linemen are going to catch absolute hell trying to stop that move.

While Lewis has the athleticism to be a finesse guy, he also had plenty of success as a power rusher too. Being able to get off those power rushes just a touch quicker is going to make a huge difference in his production.

At the same time, Lewis is one of those guys who can win around the corner, and it seems like those kinds of pure speed rushers are in short supply these days. I did find it interesting that while Lewis had such an explosive get-off at his disposal, I didn’t see him trying to burn the edge much. A guy as fast as he is, with that level of athleticism, he should be dipping and ripping more unless and until the offensive tackles show they can stop it.

I also thought he could’ve used his cross chop a little more. It was almost shocking to see him use different moves because he used some of them so sparingly. As he continues to sharpen his technique, he is probably going to see a lot more success running around blockers.

Lewis’ NFL future: The next Von Miller (if healthy)

You know who I kept thinking about while watching Lewis flash for four games?

Von Miller.

That’s who Lewis reminded me of when he would make an explosive play seemingly out of the blue. So I decided to look up Miller’s combine numbers.

He hit a 37-inch vertical and a 126-inch broad jump. Lewis notched the same vertical and a 124-inch broad jump. But Miller weighed in at “only” 6’3 and 246 pounds.

Take from that what you will. While I admit Miller had much better technique coming out than Lewis currently possesses, there isn’t any role Miller plays on the field that I don’t think Lewis could do, too. There is a distinct possibility that one day Lewis will be doing a lot of the same things just as good or better than Miller.

Yeah, I said it.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the injuries. As somehow who went through his share of injuries both in college and in the NFL, I’m a little sensitive to the label “injury prone,” especially when we are talking about major injuries like Lewis suffered in college. I am unaware of any exercise or stretch that will prevent an ACL tear. Trust me, if such a thing existed every football player would be trying it.

At the same time, the truth is one of the most important abilities of any player is availability. That is the cold business side of the game, and of course it has to factor into any draft evaluation. None of us have a crystal ball, so Lewis might go out there the first play of his career and get injured again, or he might play the next decade without missing a rep. There’s no way to know for sure.

Since I have no interest in seeing his medical records, and because I generally hate talking about injuries, I’m just going to assume Lewis stays healthy as a pro. If he does, the sky really is the limit with this kid. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a college player with this much upside. I am damn near positive I’ve never done a breakdown with a guy whose ceiling was any higher.

I could easily spin Lewis missing so much time to injuries in college to there not being as many miles on his body. He really only played two seasons, and he’s still only 21. He already has a potent spin move to work as a counter off his speed rushes, so he’s ready to get on the field and get pressure early on his career.

That, ladies and gentlemen, gets me excited! Once you see him in the NFL, I think you will be excited too.

Lewis may be floating under the radar due to injuries and his mostly underwhelming statistics, but if he can just stay healthy, he could be the kind of NFL edge rusher offensive coordinators have to gameplan around. I have no idea how his injury history will affect where he’s drafted, but no matter when or where he goes, it’s all going to come down to his health.

If he can find a way to stay on the field, Lewis will be able to impact the outcome of games on an outsized level eventually. And if that happens, the barbershop debates over him and Young are going to be epic a few years down the road.

Be sure to check out my other scouting reports on Chase Young, Jerry Jeudy, Derrick Brown, Jedrick Wills Jr., A.J. Epenesa, CeeDee Lamb, Javon Kinlaw, and Mekhi Becton.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Lewis play against South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn.