Sharing a defensive backfield with teammate Jabril Peppers, you can see how Michigan corner Jourdan Lewis might fly under the radar when it comes to being recognized as one of college football’s better cornerbacks and a highly thought of NFL prospect.
Lewis enters his senior season in Ann Arbor fresh on the heels of an impressive 2015 campaign that saw him register a career high in tackles (52), tackles for loss (3.5), and passes defended (20). His 20 pass breakups were third-best in the country, and were the second highest total in the Big Ten.
Lewis also chipped in on special teams, as his 25.2 yards per return average was good for second in the conference.
Lewis was named a first team All-Big Ten defender, and a second team All-American by both the Associated Press and the Football Writers Association of America.
Lewis possesses the lateral agility, quick feet, and speed that scouts look for in corners. He demonstrates his flexibility with loose hips, and change of direction skills that allow him to mirror a receiver off the snap at the line of scrimmage. He is smooth, and balanced in his back pedal, doing a nice job of staying low, and transitions nicely into a full sprint when he turns and burns with a receiver. His aforementioned speed allows him to stay on the receiver’s hip downfield, while also letting him trail them across the field, keeping pace and in the vicinity to make a tackle or play on the ball.
While in coverage Lewis displays good instincts and ball skills as he is seemingly almost always positioned where he has a chance to make a play on the ball or at the very least limit the amount of yards after the catch. His ability to hand fight the receiver downfield, and to quickly locate the ball (while in flight), contributed greatly to his total of 20 passes defended last season.
Lewis appears comfortable playing either press or zone coverage. His quickness and recognition while in zone allow him to quickly pounce on anything thrown underneath or in front of him.
Lewis is also a willing run defender who (despite his size) will come downhill and throw his body around in an attempt to get the ball carrier on the ground.
The alarms with Lewis center around his size and some technique concerns. In terms of his size Lewis is thinly built (186 pounds) and although he is listed at 5-foot-11, he looks like he might shorter than that. Lewis can be out leveraged and overpowered by bigger, more physical receivers.
With his technique, Lewis needs to do a better job of getting his hands on the receivers at the line of scrimmage when lined up in press coverage. While there were plenty of examples where he would hit the receiver in the chest at the snap of the ball, you also saw too many times where Lewis was lined up in press coverage yet would allow the receiver a free release off the line. Subsequently, this would cause him to grab and reach for the receiver in an attempt to slow them down.
Lewis also has a tendency of not always turning his head around and locating the ball while in coverage. He relies on playing the receiver and keying off him to help tip him that the ball was in the air. By not turning his head, Lewis not only passes up on opportunities to make plays on the ball, but can also draw pass interference penalties from officials who won’t allow some of the hand fighting downfield to go on without a flag.
While size and strength are legitimate concerns when talking about Lewis playing corner in the NFL, what can’t be ignored is his ability to make plays on the ball while in coverage.
As an example, take a look at this spectacular one-handed interception he made versus Wisconsin.
Factor in his competiveness and toughness plus the boost he would supply a team on special teams with regard to kick-off returns, there is just too much to like about Lewis to not see him going in the first two rounds of the draft.
Although he might initially see playing time on the inside as either a slot or nickel corner, Lewis has the speed, instincts and coverage ability to develop into a starting NFL cover corner.