The 2018 Indianapolis Colts draft class may go down in history as one of the best of all time. I know it is a bit early to truly say this but so far, the results speak for themselves. Guard Quenton Nelson (6th overall) and linebacker Darius Leonard (36th overall) have turned into cornerstone players in this league and have both been named All-Pros in each of their first two seasons. The Colts also were able to draft an above average RT in Braden Smith, an explosive (yet injured) pass rusher in Kemoko Turay, and two really productive running backs in Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. The one pick that has looked questionable up to this point has been the selection of Tyquan Lewis.
Lewis was not by any means a bad pick at the time or what some would call a “reach.” He just hasn’t produced through two seasons in the league. Coming into his third NFL season, Lewis is the healthiest he has been in the league and coming off of his best training camp as a Colt. So what can we reasonably expect from the third year defensive tackle? Let’s look at some numbers and film to see.
The biggest issue when it comes to production for Lewis has been his health. He has played in just 17 games through two seasons for the Colts. As a rookie, he only managed to play in eight games due to an injury in the offseason that led to him landing on IR. Last year, he missed another seven games due to an ankle injury.
When he has played, the production has been modest at best. As a pass rusher, he has totaled three sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 18 hurries in 356 pass rushing snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, his pass rush win rate last season was third from the bottom among Colts players with a number of 4.1. He only beat out Grover Stewart and Margus Hunt in this regard.
As a run defender, the numbers are even worse for Lewis. He logged just six total tackles last season and had only two run stops on 65 run snaps played. He was last on the defensive line in terms of run stop percentage and missed two tackles to go along with his low tackle numbers.
Flashes on Film
While the numbers paint a pretty poor picture of Lewis’ play over the past two season, he has flashed a bit. While his run defense certainly needs to improve, there have been positive signs as a pass rusher. Look at this clip from last season for instance. He jumps out of his stance and quickly wins the hand fighting with the right tackle. He then turns the corner and closes ground quickly on the quarterback. While the pass is still completed, he makes a nice play here and nearly comes up with the sack.
The potential is certainly there for Lewis to be a good pass rusher in this league. We talk about traits a lot on here and in the writing/scouting community. He has a beautiful blend of size, explosion, and strength that makes him a very “traitsy” type of player. On this play, you can see all those traits coming together on an excellent rush. He explodes out of his stance and closes ground quickly. He sets up the outside rush then comes down with a deadly chop to get separation. he is quick around the end and nearly gets the sack on the play. These are the intangibles that Ballard and this excellent scouting staff saw in him as a prospect.
I know that all of these clips so far have shown Lewis as a defensive end rather than the three technique spot that he is going to play this season. First I would like to mention that he will likely see time at both spots, especially with Kemoko Turay out the first six weeks. Second, the positive flashes we see from him playing at end do translate to rushing the passer from the interior. Look at his brute strength on the outside with this rush as he drive the left tackle into the lap of the Dolphins quarterback. That should translate well as Lewis moves inside on a more full time basis.
Lastly, let’s look at a clip with him actually rushing from the inside. The biggest advantage he has as a pass rusher from the three technique position is his natural quickness and twitch. As a three tech, he can utilize that ability against athletes who are a bit bigger and slower than offensive tackles. Here Lewis is able to fight his way upfield past the guard for the sack. These are the type of rushes we hope to see from him this year as the primary backup for the three technique position.
The Training Camp Hype Machine
The lucky few Colts writers and journalists who were allowed to attend camp this year where not shy about saying who impressed the most. Lewis drew praise seemingly every single day with some writers saying that he looks like a completely different player. GM Chris Ballard even threw some praise his way by saying he had one of the best training camps among every player in attendance. Here are some tweets to illustrate how dominant he was in camp:
Reich on Tyquan Lewis:— Kevin Bowen (@KBowen1070) August 24, 2020
“He’s literally showing up every day, quite often...If he keeps up at this pace, that’s going to be big plus for us."
Lewis playing mostly in the interior this camp.
Tyquan Lewis for TCMVP. Just forces a Nyheim Hines fumble, which is recovered by DE Gerri Green. Second time Lewis has blown up a play today.— Andrew Walker (@AWalkerColts) August 24, 2020
Eberflus says the camp Tyquan Lewis has been having is reminiscent of the way Grover Stewart broke out last August.— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) August 21, 2020
Coach Reich says defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis has looked "exceptionally good" in the first three days of practices.#Colts— Larra Overton (@LarraOverton) August 19, 2020
Good day for Tyquan Lewis in 1-on-1 pass rush drills, going against Quenton Nelson. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) August 17, 2020
Chris Ballard talking about the endless work needed to totally rebuild this defense.— Kevin Bowen (@KBowen1070) September 6, 2020
Points out the strong camp for Tyquan Lewis, bigger expectations for him in 2020.
What Should Our Expectations Be?
It is really hard to not get caught up in the hype machine that is the NFL offseason, especially without the preseason to guide us a bit. I know some people fall in love with the offseason superstar but those same people are probably anxiously awaiting the Ryan Delaire Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.
This however feels a bit different than the typical offseason hero though. This is a former second round pick who has played a bit out of position and injured in his career. The production to this point has been severely underwhelming but that was never due to lac of talent. So a jump like this with a new defensive line coach and a healthy offseason isn’t super surprising.
As for expectations, I’m cautiously optimistic for his play this year. I want to see it play out on an actual football field in a live game before I truly buy the hype. I do think though that Lewis is at the best point in his career and if he is ever going to be a true impact player in this league, now is the time to do it. He enters the season as a versatile piece up front who will start as the backup three technique behind DeForest Buckner. With Turay out for six weeks, the opportunity for Lewis to bring his strong camp into the regular season will be there. Hopefully he can produce and make an already legendary 2018 Draft class even better.