Lewis, 25, is 5 foot 11, 190 pounds, and has bounced round the league since going undrafted out of Arizona State in 2011. He has played in eight NFL games (all in 2012), with five tackles, two passes defensed and one interception. He joins a Jets team that needs contributors at the cornerback position, with three of their top corners injured and a couple of guys lower down the depth chart also having missed time in the last week.
After the jump, I look in detail at footage from Lewis' first two seasons in the league to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is LeQuan Lewis?
Lewis played at Arizona State, where he intercepted one pass in two seasons and averaged more than 25 yards per kick return, including this touchdown. He ran a 4.38 40 at his Pro Day in 2011 but went undrafted. As a rookie, he played for the Titans in preseason but had just two tackles and didn't make it through final cuts.
After a brief spell with the Raiders, Lewis joined the Jets during the 2012 preseason, but was cut after one game. They brought Lewis back to play in the 2012 Bollinger Bowl, for which they only had five other active defensive backs, only to cut him again the day after and again a week later after signing him to the practice squad.
This time, Lewis was picked up by Dallas and played three regular season games for the Cowboys, although he only saw action on two defensive snaps. He was released by Dallas and picked up by Tampa Bay, where he played five more games, seeing significant action on defense in three. But he injured his left knee and missed the last four games.
In 2013, he had a brief stint with the Bears, then ended up with the Patriots in preseason, playing mostly on special teams. Before re-signing with the Jets Tuesday (a two-year deal), he had signed and been released by the Cardinals and had played briefly for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts.
Here's my observations from watching the footage on Lewis, divided into categories:
Since entering the NFL, Lewis has played exclusively on the outside. The only time I could find him an example of him playing the slot was with the Jets, where he backed way off and gave up an easy catch underneath.
There wasn't much footage to review (only about 100 snaps total) but one pattern I did notice was that he was employed in press coverage a lot but wasn't particularly good at it. He gave up two big plays on a fly pattern over the top, where the receiver deeked inside and then got a clean outside release and a quick slant where his man deeked outside and got a clean inside release. There was also one play where he tried to jam the receiver, but the receiver did a got much cleaner contact and knocked Lewis off balance to create separation. One other play Lewis was playing off and latching onto the receiver down the field in tight coverage, but the pass was still completed for a third-and-long conversion by the sideline. The one interception he had came on an underthrown ball where he may have been beaten over the top, but Philip Rivers was under too much pressure to get enough on it.
Lewis is obviously pretty fast and displayed something you'll often see from young corners with raw athleticism. Poor technique, followed by using his athleticism to recover. On the play above where the receiver got separation at the jam, he actually broke up the pass by getting back into the play, although the pass was a little behind the receiver. Plays like that show some level of promise.
As noted, Lewis didn't look 100 percent comfortable in press coverage, although that was perhaps more of a technique issue than a lack of physicality. On that play where he recovered to break it up, he was arguably a little too physical and could easily have been flagged for contact on the back side. After one special teams play, he was battling with a blocker and ended up provoking a punch to draw a flag.
Here is somewhere Lewis can make his mark, not just in kick coverage but also as a kickoff returner. For the Bucs, he returned five kickoffs for 106 yards, although he only got past the 25 once, on a 33-yard burst up the middle. Obviously, the clip I linked to earlier is another sign of his skills in this area. As a gunner, he's fantastic at beating the vice to get down the field, but over and over again seemed to overpursue and/or miss the tackle. I didn't see him break down and make the first hit once, although again perhaps that's a technique he can learn. On one occasion, he did make the tackle after a 3- yard return, but on that play he missed the tackle and then made it at the second attempt when the return man decided to reverse field.
The propensity to overpursue also showed up in run defense as he was left flat-footed by a cutback by the running back on the edge. Perhaps his best play against the run was a missed tackle, though this was more of a coverage play with Lewis coming off his man to tackle a back who caught a lateral pass in the flat. Despite missing the tackle, Lewis' intervention slowed the runner enough for his teammate to make the tackle for a loss.
When able to line up his opponent, Lewis is an okay tackler. I didn't see anyone break out of a tackle; every tackle he missed was basically because he overran it or couldn't recover and was diving after the ball carrier in desperation.
Lewis has never blitzed in an NFL regular or preseason game and didn't have a sack in college. He might be pretty good at it with his speed, but it's not something I saw from him (and the chances are he would overrun the quarterback, based on his special teams film).
As noted, Lewis had a pass breakup and an interception, so he's capable of making plays on the ball. There wasn't a large enough sample size to determine how often he might do this.
Again there isn't much we can determine in terms of instincts from this footage. However, one other big play he gave up was some kind of coverage breakdown, as the offense set up a bunch formation and Lewis followed the slot receiver, who was already being covered, to the outside and left the outside receiver open down the seam.
Lewis was pretty demonstrative after making a play. He seems to be a guy who gets fired up, at least.
Lewis doesn't seem to have any major concerns. He missed four games with the knee injury at the end of 2012, although he was listed as questionable for two of those games and probable for the last one, so they may have essentially been healthy scratches.
The media seems to be portraying this as a move for a player who will be camp fodder and is just needed as cover for the remaining preseason games. For once, I agree with them. Much like when he signed in 2012 to fill in so the team could rest most of its secondary contributors in the last preseason game, Lewis is a guy they know they can lean on to be the training camp equivalent of an "innings eater".
As with Michael Smith, maybe there's a small chance he could flash enough as a kick returner to earn a role with this team, but I think the chances of him earning a roster spot are extremely remote.
I'll be back tomorrow with our first full Expendables update, barring any unforeseen complications.