It has been quite a journey for Indianapolis Colts defensive end Tyquan Lewis. He came into the league with lofty expectations after being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Those expectations were met with just three sacks in two seasons, and a sophomore season that featured a few healthy scratches for the defensive end. He was able to turn it around in 2020 however, as he notched five sacks, two quarterback hits, and 18 hurries in 257 pass rushing opportunities (per Pro Football Focus).
As Lewis gets ready for a pivotal year four with the Colts, he has big shoes to fill. Veteran Denico Autry signed with the Tennessee Titans this offseason, leaving Lewis as the next man up at left defensive end.
In today's film room, we are going to look at a few of Lewis' best pass rushes from this past season and break down if he can take the next step for this team going forward.
Rushing From the 3-Tech
When the Colts selected Lewis in the 2018 Draft, they envisioned him being able to start at defensive end and then shift inside on obvious passing downs. Lewis has remarkable explosion and speed for his size, and the team saw this being a mismatch on the interior as a pass rusher.
This is something that Autry has done over the past three seasons as the team's starter at defensive end. With Autry gone and his starter snaps vacated, it is easy to assume that Lewis will pick up a much heavier workload in the three technique position as well.
Lewis' best pass rush of the season came against the Minnesota Vikings in week two. He explodes out of his stance and quickly swipes the hands of the guard as he works up field. Once he maneuvers past the guard, he is able to plant his foot and bend inside for the sack.
Lewis improved a lot in year three with his awareness when rushing the passer. In his first two seasons with the Colts, he had the tendency to work too far up field on his interior rushes and lose sight on the quarterback when disrupting.
On this play below, he does everything perfectly. He works up field and gets quick penetration. As Matthew Stafford begins to work up the pocket, Lewis spins off of his guard and gets the quick sack for a loss. Great awareness and a quick spin leads to the sack.
Another area where Lewis drastically improved in year three was his play strength. The most difficult transition for defensive linemen to the NFL is getting their play strength up to a capable level.
Lewis wasn't poor in this area by any means but he took that next step to where he could physically impose his will on blockers in 2020. This is an excellent bull rush that collapses the pocket and creates a sack.
Rushing off the Edge
While Lewis is a good rusher from the interior, I personally like his potential so much more off the edge. He has rare explosion and movement skills for a 6'3" 277 pound defensive lineman.
If he can get more two way go opportunities and one on one looks on the outside, I believe that he can produce at a much higher level going forward. He has much better athletic traits than what Autry ever brought to the Colts at defensive end.
This first clip showcases that athleticism I mentioned above. At his size, he shouldn't be able to dip and bend the corner like he does on this play. Crazy athleticism that shows his potential on the edge.
His power could also be better utilized off the edge. When he is lined up against interior linemen, they are typically the bigger players who are more prepared for a bull rush.
On the outside though, he can have those two way go opportunities that allows his bull rush to be more of a surprise. When he can catch a smaller offensive tackle off guard with a bull rush, it results in plays like this one below.
Overall, I am a big fan of what Lewis did on the outside this past year, and I believe that he can have a career year with more opportunities out there. He has so much more juice and explosion than the players the Colts had on the outside the last two seasons.
When he can get downhill, he is a tenacious pass rusher with great energy. Here he beats a solid right tackle in Trent Brown with a nice inside swipe move. This is the area of his game where I see the most potential going forward.
Where He Can Improve + Final Thoughts
Going into 2021, Lewis doesn't have to make any major improvements or changes to his game. He had a strong season a year ago, and the emphasis for him needs to be building off of that first major success in the league.
As for what he could improve, the biggest one was just playing more in control. He took positive steps in 2020 but he still needs to straighten out some issues he has with getting pushed out of his alley and getting run out of his arc.
The only other concern I had was being able to string moves and counters together on a more consistent basis, but that should be a quicker fix with more playing time.
Overall, Lewis appears to be at a good place mentally and physically going into year four with the team. If he can build off of what he did in 2020 and take another forward step, there is no reason to think he can't be this team's long term starter at left defensive end.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.