Taylor Lewan: From Inconsistent Loose Cannon to Elite Left Tackle

Jan 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan (77) blocks during the first half against the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan (77) blocks during the first half against the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan started out as an inconsistent headache, but has developed into an elite player.

These days, the city of Nashville seems to love Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan almost as much as their hot chicken, country music, and hockey. Hilarious antics in just the last year, such as flamboyantly sitting out of a fight between teammate Harry Douglas and Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, throwing a catfish onto the ice at a Nashville Predators game, and housing a taxidermy beaver in his locker at the Titans’ practice facility have made him a big time fan favorite in Middle Tennessee.

However, the relationship between Lewan and his fans hasn’t always been this jubilant. Not too long ago, many Titans fans and media members wondered if the mammoth-sized tackle was yet another draft mistake by former general manager Ruston Webster.

When Lewan was drafted eleventh overall by the Titans in the 2014 NFL Draft, it was assumed that he would step right in to the right tackle spot, since veteran and Titans great Michael Roos manned the left side at the time. Plans changed, however, when Roos suffered a season-ending injury less than halfway through the year. Roos retired at the end of the season, and Lewan has been the Titans’ starting left tackle ever since.

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In his first two seasons, Lewan struggled immensely with his consistency and had major issues with penalties. Pass rushers like Whitney Mercilus and Chandler Jones feasted on Lewan, each beating him repeatedly with simple bull-rush moves. And, seemingly at least twice per game, you could count on Lewan getting flagged for either a false start, hands to the face, holding, or unnecessary roughness penalty. Midway through his second season, when Mike Mularkey took over as the team’s interim coach, Lewan’s captain status was revoked in favor of Dexter McCluster.

In year three, it was as if a switch flipped. The penalty-prone loudmouth with sloppy technique morphed into a stalwart. In a dominant season that yielded a Pro Bowl selection and helped the Titans create one of the most dominant running games in the NFL, Lewan was one of Pro Football Focus’ highest graded tackles. He learned that playing “through” the whistle isn’t always necessary, and he consistently shut down star pass rushers like Von Miller and Khalil Mack.

At the end of the season, I asked Mularkey what contributed to Lewan turning things around so suddenly. According to Coach, it started before the pads even came on.

"“Taylor Lewan grew up a little bit and matured as a player. Obviously the experience that he has from his first and second year [contributed]. Plus, when he came in this offseason, I’m not sure anybody worked harder than he did in everything we did—in the weight room, and at our OTAs. He had a mindset that he was going to be great this year; he practiced that way and it never changed.”"

Mularkey also added that he was thrilled to see Lewan bearing the fruits of his labor with the personal accolades he earned.

"“I like to see that he got rewarded for it, that his peers and his fans saw that he was one of the better tackles in the league. He gets to go to the Pro Bowl, which is well deserved by him.”"

When evaluating an offensive line prospect prior to the NFL Draft, scouts start by asking a few simple questions. Can the guy move around well? Can he anchor in pass protection? Does he have an explosive lower body? Can he set a powerful edge in the run game?  Taylor Lewan checks all of those boxes, and then some.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Lewan isn’t the fact that he’s matured and become a consistent force on the offensive line, but the fact that his ceiling is still so high. If he continues to improve, Lewan will eventually play to the level of guys like Tyron Smith and Joe Thomas, and cement himself as a true premier left tackle.

Last week on my podcast, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout on Twitter) joined the show, and he was all in on Lewan as one of the best offensive linemen in football. Even with all the attention Lewan has been getting lately, Matt thinks he still isn’t getting enough.

"“I think [Lewan] is underrated, and I’m not saying that just because he was on my podcast last week. I think he is incredibly underrated, and the one thing about him is that if he can cut down on the penalties, we’re going to see him get mentioned as an All-Pro left tackle, because the production is great. I mean, he gave up two sacks last year, no quarterback hits, and even a very limited number of hurries…I do look at Lewan and think that he could be a top 5 left tackle by the time the 2017 season is over, he just has to cut down on the penalties. I love how aggressively he plays, but that’s one area where he needs to improve.”"

During the two years that Ken Whisenhunt was the Titans’ head coach, the offensive line was a train wreck of epic proportions. Thanks in part to Lewan (as well as Ben Jones, Jack Conklin, Quinton Spain, and Josh Kline), it has become one of the best units in the league. Lewan’s ceiling is limitless, and the same is true for the Titans.