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Terrell Lewis is an ‘absolute freak’ but an even bigger enigma

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There’s very little we can learn from high school scouting reports, but that’s still most of what we know about the former “Terrell Hunt”

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Oluwole Betiku Jr. was a 6’3, 240 pound edge out of Junipero Serra high in Gardena, California. He moved there as a sophomore after leaving his family behind in Nigeria, then committed to USC to play defensive end after recording 17 sacks as a senior. He played in limited action for two years then missed 2018 after hip surgery. He transferred to Illinois and posted nine sacks before entering the NFL Draft. His draft comp: Samson Ebukam. Betiku went undrafted and there’s been no reports yet of a team signing him.

Antonneous Clayton was a 6’3, 255 pound edge out of Dooly County high in Vienna, Georgia. He committed to the University of Florida to play defensive end and over three seasons, he had 11 tackles. He too transferred, going to Georgia Tech in 2019, but Clayton was not granted an exception to play. He sat out last season and awaits another opportunity with the Yellowjackets whenever the games can begin again.

Jonathon Cooper was a 6’2, 234 pound edge out of Gahanna Lincoln high in Columbus, Ohio. For what it’s worth, when I list the sizes, I imagine that they were those sizes and are a new size now. A bigger size. He committed to play defensive end at Ohio State. Consider that one year later, the Buckeyes added freshman defensive end Chase Young and that the difference between the two as recruits is minor. Young would get the edge, but barely. In his four years at Ohio State, Cooper has been limited to 29 games and he ended up redshirting in 2019 so that he can play in 2020. Cooper has 6.5 career sacks.

Shane Simmons (I am now realizing that what I’m doing is an “action movie let’s introduce all the main players” sequence) was a 6’4, 221 pound edge out of DeMatha Catholic high in Hyattsville, Maryland. He committed to Penn State over Florida State and drew interest from all the major programs. Simmons struggled over his first three years but was seen as a breakout candidate after a healthy and productive 2019 spring. He did not break out, recording two tackles for a loss and no sacks. A pro future would be stunning, but he’s got one more year left.

And then there’s Razor Blade, explosives expert.

Whoops that was the action movie.

Brian Burns was a 6’5, 218 pound edge out of American Heritage high in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He won two state championships and committed to Florida State. The difference between a home run and a foul ball in recruiting is often known immediately. Burns recorded 8.5 sacks as a freshman, leading all players of his class in the nation. He did so while only playing in eight games. Burns only had 4.5 sacks as a sophomore, but two came against Clemson. He had 10 sacks as a junior, declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft. He was drafted 16th overall by the Carolina Panthers and he had 7.5 sacks as a rookie.

These are the five wide defensive end players who were ranked ahead of Terrell Lewis in the 2016 recruiting class by 247. It goes to show you just how little we really know about high school recruits. (And I have to move down 18 spots to find the next name that I recognize, which is 2020 draftee Julian Okwara.) But the truth is that Lewis himself could have easily had the same fate as the top four guys in this list and in a way, he already has.

But the difference is that he did just enough at Alabama to get taken 84th overall by the Los Angeles Rams in the draft this past weekend. Why? A special set of skills.

(Action movies. Taken. You get it.)

First of all, Lewis has pulled one real Jason Bourne move as Terrell Lewis is not the name he had when he was in high school. Back then he was Terrell Hall and Rivals loved him.

As opposed to 247, Rivals ranked “Hall” over Clayton at two, Burns at four, Cooper at five, and Simmons at six. Betiku was ranked as a strongside defensive end as opposed to a weakside defensive end, which is a really crucial designation when you’re 17 years old. The top-three players there were Jeffery Simmons, Nick Bosa, and Marlon Davidson.

Consider now that in 2016, “Hall” a.k.a. Terrell Lewis was ranked 20th overall nationally and Bosa, already one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL, was ranked 21st.

To get more on the excitement of securing Hall’s services in 2016, I spoke to Brent Taylor from Roll Bama Roll. One has to wonder if Alabama fans can even get excited about five-star prospects in the way that fans of the other 99% would, but there was no dismissing that the future Lewis had the potential to be the most dominant defensive player in college football.

Remember, Nick Bosa was ranked behind him.

“As a high school player, my main memory of him was that his entire highlight reel looked like this giant pterodactyl closing down on all those tiny high school QBs. He’d rush at them with his arms up, and they’d just curl up on the ground.”

There can’t be many better feelings for a teenager than feeling like a man among boys, and that is obviously the case in any tape of former Hall as a former high schooler. Keep in mind that some of what you see above is him when he was a sophomore, at least.

Taylor also wrote a scouting report of the high school Hall way back in 2016:

Hailing from the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C., Terrell Hall is a monster specimen who is just as likely to end up playing as a true defensive lineman as he is a Jack linebacker. Though he did not go through all of Nike’s tests to record a SPARQ score, his 40-yard dash of 4.88 seconds is decently respectable for someone his size, and his exceptional 40.5 powerball toss demonstrates his raw upper body strength. I’ll get this out of the way now, but I think the Hall should be a surefire 5-star prospect.

There were many more pros than cons about Hall, including his size, explosiveness, speed, and run defense, as opposed to not being a great tackler yet and needing more work in pass coverage.

Prediction

As stated above, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, and crew have the edge rushing positions locked down with senior starters already. Despite this, Hall is too good not to see the field in some way this year. He may not break into the regular rotation, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get a lion’s share of time in mop up duty. I also expect him to find a role on special teams, either as a blocker or rusher on the punting and field goal teams.

As a freshman, Terrell Hall had 11 tackles and one sack, appearing in all 11 games but only registering any stats in seven of them. As Taylor mentioned, he was playing on a defense with first rounder Jonathan Allen, second rounder Ryan Anderson, and third rounder Tim Williams. All three of whom would be leaving the school after 2016 and opening the door for Hall — or Lewis, as he would change his name before his sophomore season — to become the next great Alabama linebacker.

The table was set but unfortunately the Hall would fall.

In the 2017 season opener against Florida State, Terrell Lewis had five tackles including one for a loss, but an arm injury would cost him the next 10 games. When he returned to face sixth-ranked Auburn, the Crimson Tide were 11-0. Lewis had two tackles in the game and Alabama suffered their first loss of the year. They still got into the College Football Playoff however and faced Clemson in the first matchup. Lewis had two tackles and a pass defensed as Alabama advanced to the national championship against Georgia.

You can watch every snap he played in that game right here, as it will always be the biggest game of his career. He had more productive games, but for a player who goes to Alabama, you expect to play in contests that have the highest of stakes. This was for a national championship, and Lewis wouldn’t play in many games period. He had seven tackles and a sack in this one as the Crimson Tide won their second CFP title in three years.

This was also the last we would see of Lewis on a football field for almost two years.

Back to Taylor’s recounting of the Lewis era:

“The story of his injuries is a long and pretty sad one. And, to be honest, they’ve derailed his career so much that most anything I say about him is still talking about the same potential we saw as a high school recruit.

His freshman year, he was a rotational back-up that got a good bit of playing time in mop-up duty and spelled the starters a few times near the end of the season. He looked good in limited snaps, but nothing impactful.

The summer going into his sophomore year, he won the position battle and the starting job as a Jack linebacker (Alabama’s name for that linebacker/edge rusher hybrid in a 3-4 defense). He then proceeded to tear a ligament in his elbow in the first half of the season opener and was expected to miss the entire season. However, he was by all accounts a warrior at rehabbing, and made it back for the final two games of the season in the CFB Playoffs. He was obviously on very limited snaps with a giant arm brace, but got to sub in on pass-rush packages.

He made an overtime 3rd down sack on Jake Fromm in the National Championship that setup the famous game-winner from Tua Tagovailoa, and that display of explosive pass-rush had Alabama fans very, very excited for the next year or two.”

Lewis was again in position to have a strong offseason and return as the Tide’s most lethal weapon on defense, but that dream was taken from him too.

“Well, then he went and tore an ACL in the preseason and missed his entire junior year. In that time, though, he made it a point to spend a lot of time with the media, and he wound up becoming one of the Tide’s go-to players for press conferences in his senior year.

As a senior, he was still a little slowed from all the rehab of that ACL injury a year before, and the coaches had him playing limited snaps for about the first 4-5 games of the season. He was a full starter for the rest of the year, though there were some rumors that he had another nagging knee problem later in the season.”

As Quinnen Williams set the tone for Alabama in 2018 with 19.5 TFL and set himself up to be the third overall pick in the draft, Lewis waited for his time again. The great news is that he managed to stay healthy enough to play in most of their games. The good news is that Lewis was second on the team in TFL and sacks. The bad news (for Crimson Tide fans) is that Alabama wasn’t quite as dominant as season’s past and so it wasn’t like he was clearly a standout as someone like Bosa might be.

But 28 tackles, 11.5 TFL, and six sacks for a player who is playing in the SEC and leading the way for perhaps the most talented team in the country and while potentially nagged by injuries and with three years of rust ... the potential for what could be with Lewis is obvious.

“And that’s pretty much his story. He had a few splashy sacks this last year, and also spent a lot of time invisible. He’s soooo visibly explosive, and a lot of his sacks are of the variety where the QB is standing in the pocket looking all calm and collected and then he’s flat on his back with no idea how a nearly 260-lb man teleported 5 yards and leveled him.”

The LA Rams selected Terrell Lewis with the 84th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft as a potential replacement on the edge for Dante Fowler Jr or Clay Matthews. If there’s one major criticism for drafting Lewis that high — outside of but related to his injuries — is that the Rams are taking him for what he could be when we really have no idea what he is.

We rarely, if ever, saw what a fully healthy and integrated Lewis on the Alabama defense and then when the NFL Scouting Combine came around in February, we only got his size and not his speed or any other measurables other than a 37” vertical and a 10’4 broad jump. A pro day opportunity to measure Lewis would never come either. He did get a chance to showcase some of what makes him unique at the Senior Bowl, however, with teammate Hale Hentges calling him “an absolute freak.”

“Terrell Lewis is almost impossible to give a player comp for because he’s got that long, stringy body, but then he’s got like Mike Tyson hands,” Nagy told reporters during Senior Bowl week. He also added that he believes that Lewis is a top-15 talent which piqued my interest.

When Lewis walked across the stage in Mobile and went through the measurements, you realized he was a dude. He measured in at just over 6-foot-5, 258 pounds, 34 1/8 inch arms, and an 83 4/8-inch wingspan. It’s this frame that is the foundation for his ‘freak’ nickname and the athleticism that he shows on film.

The Senior Bowl’s Jim Nagy tends to hype the hell out of anyone who even eats a Reese’s peanut butter cup (no dig, he’s a super nice guy) but it’s not hard to understand why Lewis probably deserves that recognition. After all, we had little to go from other than size, speed, and mythology.

But at 6’5, 262 pounds — the size he was at the combine a month later — Lewis could compare to some of the NFL’s best edge defenders.

If only we knew his 40-yard dash, 3-cone time, short shuttle, then it may be a little easier to compare to the good ones or the not so good ones — even though, as we should already know by now, these numbers are still terrible at predicting success. There could still be some really encouraging results though.

Going back to 2013-2019, 59 edge defenders have stood between 6’4 and 6’6 while weighing between 240 and 260 pounds. Of those, 19 were over the age of 22 (or Pro-Football-Reference doesn’t even list their age, which is only for five undrafted players who didn’t have much, if any of a career) and only Trent Murphy got drafted above the third round and went onto have a productive career.

Lewis doesn’t turn 22 until August. This is an encouraging sign and I’m sure a major reason why Lewis was a third round pick. If he were 23 already, I could see him falling to day three or out of the draft.

There is only one draft pick who had the exact same height and weight as Lewis: Josh Allen, the seventh overall pick of the Jaguars last year, who had a really productive rookie season in Jacksonville. Allen ran a 4.63 in the 40, and Lewis has been projected around the 4.7 range. We don’t know if this is true, but Lewis running a 4.6 or a 4.7 or a 4.8 are all possibilities, I assume.

Allen had a shorter vertical (28”) and broad jump (9’10) than Lewis.

Allen is also one of 20 players on this list who were 21 or younger, like Lewis. Of those 20, seven were first round picks (Allen, Joey Bosa, Anthony Barr, Marcus Davenport, Clelin Ferrell, Jadeveon Clowney, Bradley Chubb) and none went in round two. The only other successful notable in this group is Danielle Hunter (round three), whereas Damontre Moore, Jordan Willis, Daeshon Hall did not play up to their potential.

There are some more exciting names in the 22-year-old range however: T.J. Watt, Leighton Vander Esch being the headliners, where Montez Sweat and Bud Dupree are the other first rounders in that age range. Alex Okafor, Sam Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson, and Lorenzo Carter stand out after the first round, but many of the players on this list didn’t have an NFL impact. Not yet, at least.

The 37” vertical is the same as Watt and just a hair under Clowney, but is also the same as James Gayle, a UDFA out of Virginia Tech in 2014 with a really favorable physical comp to Lewis. Dupree had the best vertical at 42” but hasn’t started to break out to realize his full potential until very recently.

The 10’2 broad jump is the same as Gayle, Moore, and Hendrickson, besting Chubb, Bosa, Barr, Murphy, and many others here. It’s just below Daeshon Hall, a 2017 third round pick of the Panthers who also has a very similar athletic profile to Lewis, but 1.5 sacks in three years. Dupree also had the best broad jump here.

So we didn’t see much college tape of Lewis.

We didn’t get even half of the measurables a team would hope to get.

We know that he’s missed games pretty much every season of his college career for injury related reasons.

At a certain point you start to wonder if the Rams just drafted a player in the third round because of his evaluation as a 17-year-old by a recruiting website.

But we also know that the upside on Lewis is a rather favorable comparison to really good edge players, including some who easily place in the top-10 league-wide. LA seemed to target play-now draftees early on who may need less coaching during what could be a tumultuous first offseason for them, including Cam Akers and Van Jefferson, but Lewis feels like the “house money pick” of the draft for the Rams.

“Meet Terrell Lewis, aka Terrell Hunt, aka “The Absolute Freak.” He’s the biggest middle-finger (TV edit) we’ve got on this ragtag team of runts (TV edit) and I’m telling you, if there’s a steel wall we need to torch through, we can just send the freak to ram that fracking (TV edit) thing down to hell. He’s been living in Bethesda, Maryland as a baker, makes the best blueberry muffins in Montgomery Country, but I know he’s ready to come out of retirement and bust some ashes (TV edit).”

(cut to: Terrell Lewis throws a blueberry muffin at a Hummer that was parked in a handicap space and it bores a hole through the side door. The inconsiderate jackass from “Hollyweird” takes off his sunglasses in disbelief. “You can’t park here” says Freak. Jackass drives away.)

Nice, who else we got?

“Meet Jeff Fisher, explosives—