One of the most interesting prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft is Ronnell Lewis. The Oklahoma outside linebacker/defensive end is coming off a strong 2011 season with a fabulous performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. Lewis is generally viewed as a potential second-round pick, but he could sneak into the first round as there are a number of teams picking late on Thursday night that are seeking a pass rusher.
The 6-foot-2, 253-pound Lewis showed off his rare athleticism with speed and strength at the Combine. Lewis ran the 40-yard dash at 4.69 seconds with a 10-yard split of 1.65 seconds. He also led all the linebackers with 36 reps on the bench press. Three defensive linemen tied Lewis on the bench, and the only front seven defensive player to have more reps was Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Lewis outperformed all but four defensive linemen, while those four linemen outweighed Lewis by 50 or more pounds.
Lewis showed explosion on his broad and vertical jumps while looking very good in the field drills. The Combine performance confirmed the versatility that Lewis illustrated while playing for the Sooners.
"It was a great experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity. I wanted to make a good impression on the coaches. I wanted to run the 40 in the 4.5 range, but for my position I might be playing, everything went well. The meetings with teams and talking with teams was a fun experience, and I felt like I did a good job. I just want to continue to excel through the process. I think the drills went well and I made my mark."
Teams wanted to get a sense of how things went for Lewis at Oklahoma, and he knew that going into the interviews.
"It was cool. Being in the rooms with all those coaches from the different teams, it was fun. I was anxious coming from a small town in Oklahoma you don't get the chance to see people from the NFL and meet them. It was cool to talk to them and see how I would work in their defense. We talked a lot of football. It went really well. I felt like I handled situation as best I could and answered their questions well. I was proud of myself for stepping up and being able to do that. There was a lot of pressure. Looking back at it, it was fun for me actually."
In his final collegiate season, Lewis had solid production in 10 games played at defensive end. He totaled 59 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, five passes batted, one forced fumble and one interception. Lewis also performed very well against the best competition he faced. Both Florida State and Texas A&M had left and right tackles who are early-round projections in the next few drafts. Lewis had good games in both outings and outplayed those tackles (Andrew Datko, Zebrie Sanders, Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel).
Lewis also broke down some of his tape during his team interviews at the Combine.
"There was some things that were good and some things that I could talk with them about. They would ask questions like what do you think you did wrong here. How do you think you did there? Maybe I misplaced my hands, or hit the wrong gap, just stuff like that. But I knew what I did wrong and could explain it when they put it up on film. I was always going hard. When I step on the field that's all I want to do and play to the best of my ability. That's football and that's why you're out there. Hopefully that's what they saw in my film. I'll get drafted somewhere and I just want to go play ball. That's all I want to do."
As a sophomore, Lewis was an outside linebacker. He started four games while flashing speed and physicality. Having played defensive end and outside linebacker, teams tried to get an idea from Lewis as to which position he saw himself playing in the NFL.
"Teams asked me where I preferred to play. I said, well I've played outside backer and defensive end. I've grown to like both positions equally. So wherever coaches want to put me that's where I'll play. There are a lot of teams that talked to me about standing up and rushing off the edge, or putting my hand down. Either one is fine and it doesn't bother me."
Lewis said that the 4-3 defenses did not make clear to him whether they would play him as an end or linebacker if they select him.
"That I really don't know. It depends on if they need a defensive end or outside linebacker. A lot of teams asked me which I preferred playing, which I'm happy with either. I do like to see the offensive formation, and at defensive end you don't really get to see that as you hold your gap, and in third and longs, you're rushing of course, so you don't get see the formations and bunches to get an idea of what might be coming at me."
Thus far, teams running a 3-4 defense are showing a lot of interest in Lewis. Lewis has a few pre-draft visits already set up and more teams are scheduling him. The Cowboys will host Lewis on a visit, and they could tutor him for a year before having him replace Anthony Spencer in 2013. Two other 3-4 defenses that need to improve their edge rushers are hosting Lewis prior to the draft.
"As far as I know of, I'll be flying to San Diego. They're flying me out. I'm flying out to New York and the Jets here in the next week or so. There are four or five teams right now, and probably more but we don't have the dates set yet. It'll be fun to meet with the teams."
Two other teams that may host Lewis are the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots.
"I met with them at the Combine, and that's as far as I know. I think they've been calling my agent. I'm not sure if they will fly me out. I don't know yet."
Lewis didn't play in his final two collegiate games because of academic issues. Over his time in college, Lewis has never had any legal issues and was known as a hard worker who was a good locker room presence. Lewis gave some insight as to why he had some challenges in Norman.
"Where I come from moving to Norman was big for me. Where I'm from in Dewar, Oklahoma there is 1,000 people. Going from there to Norman was a big city to me. It'll be kind of different for me, but I'll adapt to my new hometown. The NFL is going to be my life and my career going forward, and I'm going to love it. Home will always be back where I was born and raised. I'm going to do my best and work hard. I want to thank everybody who helped me along the way. The process has been really fun. I want to keep doing the hard work."
Leading up to the Combine, Lewis has gotten used to the flow of big cities as he trained in San Diego. Lewis worked out with other prospects and former college teammate Gerald McCoy. One thing that will surely impress NFL teams when they host Lewis is his team-first attitude. It was abundantly clear when speaking to Lewis, as he said it is a core value of his to be a good teammate in the NFL.
"At Oklahoma, we were united as one. We were a family. My teammates were a family away from your family. When anybody gets down, we try and get them up as a team. That's what we fed off of. The coaches, they were there and when you messed up, they got on your ass. That's how we liked it, when the coaches are telling you to do a better job and get it right. You do that or you're not playing. That's ball. They want to put the best out there so we can win. That's what you have to do, to step up as man and take that responsibility. The coaches were great and my teammates were great. I still keep in touch with them. Those relationships will always stay strong in my future in the NFL and beyond."