The University of Louisiana at Lafayette had arguably their best season in school history in 2019, going 11-3 while ending the season with a victory in the Lending Tree Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns packed a powerful offense that was aided by three NFL Draft selections. But the true engine of the unit was quarterback Levi Lewis, who was extremely impressive in his first year as a starter.
Lewis was a breakout star in his junior campaign, throwing for 26 touchdowns and 3,050 yards, both of which were the school’s single-season records; not to mention that Lewis did this while completing 64.3 percent of his passes.
Unlike many college quarterbacks, Lewis showed an ability to protect the ball, throwing only four interceptions in 14 starts. If Lewis continues the pace he set for his junior season, he could become one of this year’s breakout NFL prospects.
At only 5-foot-10 190’ pounds Lewis doesn’t fit the prototypical quarterback frame and he’s far from a perfect prospect. Questions surrounding his build are inevitable as he graduates into the NFL. But the emergence of undersized and unique quarterbacks, such as Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson, have made it a legitimate, maybe even trendy possibility for Lewis to be looked upon fondly by NFL teams.
Like the trio of quarterbacks mentioned, Lewis comes with a legitimate chip on his shoulder, a characteristic reminiscent of many of the league’s best signal callers.
“I think Levi is his own worst critic,” University of Louisiana head coach Billy Napier said of Lewis to KLFY. “You know I think that’s one of the reasons he’s continued to get better because he’s rarely patting himself on the back. I think Levi has done a great job setting an example to the other players of how to prepare, how to handle themselves on campus, in the community. He’s been a class act relative to understanding leadership and what that requires. Certainly he demands respect. Heck, he demands my respect. He makes me better.”
This is a chip that was evident in Wilson since the college level and only increased, as his height caused him to slip to the third-round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Similar to Wilson, Murray was thought of as “too small” to play in the NFL, but was a standout on the Arizona Cardinals in his Rookie of the Year campaign and is even earning MVP buzz entering his sophomore season.
The most publicized criticism of all was Lamar Jackson. Many thought of Jackson as an athlete and not a quarterback, meaning they questioned if he had the I.Q. and pure arm talent to make it in the NFL. Bill Polian, a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and one of the greatest executives to ever work in the league publicly said Jackson should make a transition over to wide receiver.
“Don’t wait to make the change. Don’t be like the kid from Ohio State [Terrelle Pryor] and be 29 when you make that change,” Polian said of Jackson on ESPN Radio’s “Golic and Wingo.”
After two playoff appearances and a historic MVP season, Polian has admitted he was wrong. But the criticisms were harsh and Polian wasn’t alone in the sentiment. Jackson was selected 32nd overall and general manager Ozzie Newsome received criticism from many on draft night.
Lewis will garner comparisons to both Murray and Jackson. All three make defenders miss in the open field and put together ridiculous highlights. Lewis has a similar frame and pocket-style to Murray, but Lewis runs more like Jackson in the open field and the two have similar faults. Lewis is equipped with great short and intermediate accuracy,but like Jackson at Louisville, Lewis has issues with deep accuracy, even if he has the arm strength. They both run themselves into no man’s land by trying to do too much, eventually taking unnecessary hits and occasionally leave themselves vulnerable to turnovers. While Lewis is dynamic, he is nowhere near dynamic as Jackson was or is and is utilized more like Murray was at Oklahoma than Jackson was at Louisville.
If an NFL team sees the upside, much like the Ravens did with Jackson, or the Seahawks did with Wilson and is willing to show a commitment to Lewis, they might have one of the hidden gems of the 2021 Draft.