Over the last few years, this has been one of the buzzwords the Texans have used to describe the decisions they made and continue to make. They value and cherish versatility along the offensive line despite it continuing to contort and rearrange week to week. On last week’s conference call with season ticket holders, general manager Bill O’Brien described Timmy Jernigan as versatile because he can play the ‘3’, 2i’, and even nose tackle.
In the upcoming NFL Draft, the Texans should spend Round Two doing everything they can to improve their pass defense. Eric Murray and Jernigan aren’t enough to improve the league’s worst short pass defense by yards per attempt, one that finished 26th in defensive DVOA. Banking on Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Jacob Martin’s progression, and J.J. Watt’s health is a risk that needs to be hedged. This is the team’s biggest weakness. This is where they have to improve to stave off possible one-possession record regression.
Along the pass defense, Houston could use anything and everything. An edge pass rusher. An interior three down force. A slot cornerback. A tweener third safety who can do everything from play in the box, to cover tight ends, to play the slot. Another outside coverage corner. Any one of these positions could use a infusion of talent from the 2020 NFL Draft and free agency once the draft comes to an end.
One of the players in this class the Texans probably have their eyes on is Terrell Lewis. He’s an edge defender from Alabama. He’s 6’5” and weighs 262 lbs. He jumps high. He jumps far. Most enticingly, Alabama deployed him to carry out just about every task a box defender can take on: blitz the interior, play man coverage, chase crossing routes as a match defender, sit in hook zones, rush off the edge with his hand down or standing up, play inside on the defensive line out of a four point stance.
Versatile. Versatile. Versatile.
As an edge rusher, Lewis leaves a lot to be desired. Despite his laboratory edge rushing frame, he doesn’t have the speed to consistently win around the edge.
Here he’s lined up as the left end and is matched up against the right tackle. Lewis (#24) pounces off the snap and routinely gets a great jump off the ball. His path is wide. It’s a pure edge rush and he’s trying to turn the corner. Once he turns his shoulder to get wide, the tackle (#76) is able to change his pass set, open the gate, and then make the contact. This turn doesn’t allow Lewis to counter the inside shoulder and take advantage of this amateur pass set. At the point of contact, the tackle is able to stifle Lewis’ movement; he drives him wide and around the pocket. Joe Burrow can’t miss and he easily steps up away from the pressure.
This time Lewis is rushing as a right end against the left tackle (#77) as a stand up rusher. Like the previous play, Lewis gets a great jump off the ball. This doesn’t translate into any substantial pressure. The left tackle is able to take an elongated second step and create contact first. Lewis lacks the demonic speed needed to torch the tackle, and he doesn’t have the nuance to time his contact to take advantage of this long second step. The tackle creates contact first. Lewis tries to rip around it but is wrangled. Once again, he’s driven outside the pocket and behind the quarterback. Tackles dominate Lewis with their strength once they get their hands on him.
Repeatedly, as an outside rusher, tackles (#71) meet Lewis at the point of attack. His pure speed rushes don’t amount to much at all. Rarely, if ever, does Lewis beat offensive tackles to their outside shoulder to create pure edge pressure.
As a pass rusher, most of Lewis’ success comes from a sneaky little outside-in move. Most young rushers have one move they can consistently win with and they often don’t have a great counter to go with it. Lewis is the opposite. He’s all counter. He lacks a consistent outside rush to create pressure with.
It’s 3rd and 17 here. Lewis is matched up against a Frankenstein right tackle (#76). The tight end is tight to the line of scrimmage. Lewis gets a great jump off the ball again, plants in front of the tight end, and then cuts inside and around the chip. The tackle is committed to stopping the edge rush. He over-sets and ends up with his head on Lewis’ outside shoulder. Then, from there, Lewis dips and explodes up field.
He isn’t able to finish, though. He’s wild and reckless. Burrow steps up away from the rush and turns a punt into an easy field goal attempt.
On this interior move, Lewis punches the inside shoulder, extends to create space, and rips under to disengage from the block. He doesn’t pick up the sack, but he creates the pressure that leads to the sack. This is a legitimately great pass rush move. This is Sunday afternoon material.
On these inside rushes, Lewis uses quickness to create pressure. He doesn’t have the strength or power to turn these inside jumps into mauling bullrushes. The assumption is someone with his profile would be great on stunts where he can use his quickness off the ball to eat up discombobulated blockers. Yet this isn’t the case. Whenever offensive linemen get their hands on Lewis, his movement comes to a halt.
The burst off the ball is great when Lewis jumps the inside gap. That’s the only thing that is positive on this play. The right tackle (#76) easily bench presses Lewis and extends him off the chest. The blitz design doesn’t create any pressure. Burrow finds the space the blitzing safety evacuated.
Alabama also occasionally used him as an interior blitzer. His actions in that role didn’t create havoc. Lewis would sprint into the interior of the offense, get extended, and watch and wait from there.
He didn’t only rush the quarterback in the passing game. He was also utilized in a variety of ways to cover receivers.
In man coverage, Lewis doesn’t really have the feel or ability to cover running backs. Here, he’s standing up along the line of scrimmage on the boundary side of the field. Alabama blitzes the middle linebacker. Lewis is covering the back, the #2 receiver, lined up in the backfield.
He’s out of whack from the beginning of this play. He never squares up the running back. He isn’t flat along the line of scrimmage. The back sends him flying to the sideline with a slight fake wide at the stem of his angle route. He’s not in position to make the tackle after the reception; once he comes back to pursue the back afterwards, he misses him again.
Lewis is better in hook zones and at spying when he can put his instincts to use. On this snap, he’s standing up over the right tackle (#71). He goes from looping inside on a stunt to being the curl defender once the back escapes through the interior of the line of scrimmage. Lewis uses his hands well to pin the running back, close the throwing lane, and distort his view to the quarterback.
Lewis feels the game well. He played in a complicated scheme and didn’t get lost when asked to make multiple reads, decisions, or take on a variety of actions on the same snap. At the next level, teams could use Lewis as inside linebacker on passing downs to carry out pass coverage responsibilities.
Versatility is a tricky thing. Being able to do a lot of things means little when the player isn’t great at carrying out a singular action. Lewis will get drafted somewhere from the end of the first round to the early second round because of his athletic pedigree and that little word—versatility. It’s something NFL defenses cling to as they try to maintain some sort of down-to-down normalcy to combat offenses that continue to spread them apart. Lewis offers versatility, but he doesn’t offer difference making, a consistent pass rush, or the high impact plays you want from a second round selection.
Houston shouldn’t bite on Terrell Lewis in the upcoming NFL Draft. They should look to quench their pass defense needs elsewhere.