Redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan surprised just about everyone when he announced last week that he would return to the Michigan football team for his fifth-year senior season.
Among the most surprised at the news was ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., who had Lewan slotted as the No. 2 left tackle in the upcoming NFL Draft and a top-15 selection.
“Bad call,” Kiper wrote Wednesday morning. “I didn’t see Lewan falling much past No. 15 overall in this draft, and while I respect the decision, I don’t want to see a kid worth a lot of money right now holding out. Odds are he’ll be fine and a likely top-10 pick next season, but he has plenty of value now.”
Lewan was expected to received upwards of $10 million in guaranteed salary, though he has taken out insurance in the event of an injury next fall.
“If you play at the University of Michigan, whether it’s basketball, hockey, football, there’s a tradition here and there’s something that you want to be a part of,” Lewan said last week. “And if I do what I need to do, I’ll be able to play in the NFL for however long, but you only get one more year of college.”
Lewan pointed to his success against defensive-end dynamo Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl, a 33-28 defeat to South Carolina, as a good measuring stick for whether to ascend to the NFL ranks. Lewan fared well, but still decided to return.
After breaking down game film in the last two weeks, Kiper noted that Clowney got the best of Lewan four or five times in the matchup, “but Jadeveon Clowney’s going to make everyone look bad now and then.”
Clowney, a sophomore, would have been the No. 1 pick had he been able to declare for the draft, Kiper said, so a misstep or two by Lewan is only expected.
“You’re going against the best, a guy that’s NFL ready,” Kiper said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “(Clowney) could be the best defensive end since Bruce Smith to come into the NFL — Smith came in in 1985 as the No. 1 overall pick out of Virginia Tech. Clowney is in that mold. So while he got the best of Lewan four or five times in that game, Lewan held his own on other instances.
“I think maybe what (Lewan) felt like after struggling some with Clowney, he thought, ‘Hey, everyone in the NFL is like Clowney.’ Well maybe that’s not the case. Clowney is spectacular.”
Spending another season in Ann Arbor will give Lewan the opportunity to clean up a few parts of his game: footwork, technique and game-to-game and play-to-play consistency. Kiper said upgrades there could boost Lewan into the top-five for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Or, like former Michigan tackle and current Miami Dolphins tackle Jake Long, who Lewan consulted with before making his announcement, a blockbuster senior season could propel him to No. 1 overall.
“If (Lewan) talked to Jake Long, maybe Jake said, ‘Hey, by going back I become the No. 1 pick.’ Maybe you can be in the top-five where right now you wouldn’t.”
Kiper said he personally would think of leaving school early if he were in the No. 10-12 selection range, considering the risk of injury that could plummet a tackle down the draft boards.
“But I respect his decision,” Kiper said. “It’s great for college football, great for Michigan that he’s back.”