Terrell Lewis: ‘The Impossible Comp’


Every day you see or hear evaluators make player comparisons — ‘player comps’ — in order to quickly describe a player. It’s not an exercise I truly believe in because, when you throw a player comp like Chandler Jones or Terrell Suggs out there, the player you are looking to describe is now viewed through that lens and can become ‘boxed in’ and subject to scrutiny based on elite players, which is completely unfair.

Lewis is “an absolute freak”, according to his former teammate, Hale Hentges. “He looks like he’s out of some kind of movie.” That’s why when Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy tried to come up with a comp for Lewis, he was stumped.

“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.

(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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.

Bills General Manager Brandon Beane, Assistant General Manager Joe Schoen, and Director of Player Personnel Dan Morgan love edge defenders with size and length. Based on our research, dating back to 2013, for all of the free-agent transactions and draft picks involving these three talented evaluators, the average height is 76.675 inches, weight is 267.5 pounds, and registered and arm length is over 34 inches, so you know Lewis possesses some of the cornerstone traits that they love.

But in the Bills’ base 4-3 defense, you’ve gotta have more than what God blessed you with, and according to Nagy, the first thing that flashes on film is his Tyson-like hands. “Terrell has really, really heavy hands,” Nagy stated. “When he gets into you, he gets into you.” His film is littered with these moments, and I think that is one of the primary traits the Bills will fall in love with as they let defensive end Shaq Lawson test the market. Lawson was their most consistent run defender last year, and it was the pop in his hands and ability to stack a tackle or tight end and make a play on the ball that has been his go-to trait the last couple years. Lewis plays the run in a similar way, and Nagy was told by a friend on the Alabama staff that ‘we’ve got nobody that can block this dude, including Jonah Williams,” who went 11th overall in the 2019 NFL draft. He plays with good leverage, balance and pop. Here, you see him jolt left tackle Isaiah Wynn, disengage, and make a tackle on the back.

His length is a problem not just for tackles, but also for tight ends. Defensive ends in the Bills’ 4-3 over front are routinely asked to play head-up over the tight end in what is known as a 6-technique. The Bills use this front so that the defensive end is a C-gap player and their rangy linebackers can fast flow over the top. Here, you see Lewis lined up just outside the tight end. He displays perfect hand placement, leverage, and strength as the run comes his way. His former teammate, Hentges, who played tight end and lined up across from Lewis every day at practice, stated that because of Lewis’s long arms, “you just need to think about getting your hands inside really quick and try and get leverage before he gets his hands on you and hold on.” The Arkansas tight end doesn’t win that battle, and Lewis is able to play with a strong play-side hand, which doesn’t allow the tight end to win outside leverage or reach Lewis. Lewis’s inside hand is practically free, and he uses it to easily disengage from the tight end and lay a lick on the running back as he commits inside.

In 2019, Lewis registered 32 total tackles against the run while only letting the runner slip through his hands on four occasions. He’s a physical player that has the ability to contain plays that are bouncing wide.

He can also blow up pullers on gap runs so that he can ‘spill’ the runner to his teammates. He plays with the mentality that you want on the edge of your defense.

Lewis can come in and be a very strong run defender day one, but where he will need work is in the passing game. Lewis’s pass rush game is very raw, he lacks a plan and in some ways is similar to Lawson. Lawson’s pass rush repertoire was limited because of his lack of athleticism and twitch. Most of his moves were power-based, whereas most of Lewis’s moves are based on his long-arm. Lewis is much more athletic, especially when talking about twitchiness but both rushers struggle to transition to a secondary or counter move after their initial plans are stymied.

You see it time and time again on film where Lewis will get dead even with the QB but fail to make a play on the ball or player. Even with that said, Lewis registered six sacks and 46 total pressures, which were second and first on the team, respectively.

It can be frustrating because he has the get-off to get there in time, and he even collapses the width of the pocket with his strength, but he’s unable to consistently make a play on the QB.

But you can see why his long-arm stab is utilized so often. He can generate a good amount of force behind it, which in turn can register pressure.

The Washington D.C. native has only played in 26 games because of injuries. He dislocated his elbow in 2017 and tore his ACL in 2018, but his faith has helped him through the hard times. Lewis stated that his faith has “prepared me for everything I’ve gone through [in life], even in college, the adversity that I’ve gone through.” The Bills love guys with Lewis’s mental toughness and “something to prove” DNA.

There is a lot of room for growth in his game as a pass rusher, and new defensive line coach Eric Washington has worked with a similar edge rusher in Christian Miller when he was with the Panthers last year. Miller is a former teammate of Lewis and has a similar long, thin build. The two possess very good jump off the ball, which can cause tackles to over-set or look to gain depth for fear of losing the edge. This is when Lewis can use his lateral agility to really do some damage. While he doesn’t use it often enough, Lewis should be able to refine his spin move. He could use the threat of his up-field burst and length to propel himself back inside towards the quarterback. Look at the ground he covers after executing the spin move here. The pressure causes an errant throw, and his teammate takes the interception the distance.

Nagy told reporters that “He’s so explosive out of his stance, he can beat you with speed.” He can routinely challenge tackles’ power-steps. Generally, a tackle will kick-slide wide to meet the rusher, and when that rusher dives back inside, the tackle has to “power-step” with his outside leg, or plant and drive back inside to cut off the rusher’s inside line to the QB. This can be a difficult movement for heavy-footed tackles, and Lewis can exploit those types because he has outstanding lateral agility and a long stride to win the inside edge.

Buffalo registered 17 batted passes in 2019. It’s something that Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier drills into his defenders’ mindsets. If they are unable to get to the QB, rushers are taught to get their hands up and clog the passing lanes. Lewis always seems to be in proximity of the QB, and his 83.5-inch wingspan can makes throws up and over him much more difficult, which can lead to incomplete passes or, better yet, turnovers.

Lewis is an impossible player comp because of his athleticism and ability to do a lot of things well but nothing great. From week to week, his position or role changed. One week he was purely an edge rusher, another week he would line up off the ball as a stack linebacker, some weeks as a 3-technique in their ‘diamond front.’ He was a chess piece for the Crimson Tide. He was used everywhere, and he was especially crucial to their exotic stunts and blitzes. But playing him primarily as a base end will allow him to develop much quicker.

His injuries will definitely affect his draft grade, but he is the type of high-upside player that Beane and Co. should take a flyer on in late day two or early day three. They have done so with draft picks and free-agent pick-ups before, so taking a shot on Lewis isn’t out of the realm of possibility, especially at a position that is undergoing a face-lift very soon. The team will likely take an edge rusher early if possible, so Lewis is likely a double-dip option for a team that will want to bring in competition for Darryl Johnson, Mike Love, and Jonathan Woodard.

Lewis may seem like a risky player to take a chance on; that’s because he is. But the locker room and roster are solid, and the Bills have an abundance of picks. If they choose to use all of those picks without making a trade, then there will be guys that likely won’t make the roster. Taking a shot on a high-upside player who hasn’t scratched the surface of his talent due to injury is not a bad swing to take in order to boost the talent on defense.