It was more than seven years ago that Taylor Lewan heard his name called during an NFL draft.
Increasingly in recent years, though, the first-round pick in 2014 (11th overall) has heard his name mentioned again and again at draft time. After 90 games played and three Pro Bowl appearances the Tennessee Titans left tackle has become something of a role model for offensive linemen on their way into the league. A growing number of prospects come into the league saying they want to play like Lewan while analysts like to compare some of the top talent to him, as was the case this year with Oregon’s Penei Sewell, chosen seventh overall by the Detroit Lions.
This year, for example, Teven Jenkins, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State, said he considered Lewan a professional role model because of “his nastiness, his athleticism and his consistency.” In 2019, third-round choice Yodny Cajuste out of West Virginia listed Lewan as one of the few NFL players whose highlights he wanted to watch.
“I don’t want to put it lightly because I don’t want to brush it off – it is very cool to have guys come into the NFL and be a fan of me,” Lewan said. “Going into my eighth year, that seems like a long time, but I remember 2014 coming into a room with 10 guys … and having the guys that I admired and still admire to this day.”
“… My thought is, ‘Hopefully I can live up to his expectation.’”
A three-year starter at North Dakota State and a two-time FCS All-American, Radunz was unabashed in his admiration for Lewan leading up to the draft and equally enthusiastic about the opportunity for the two to be teammates.
“I watch (Lewan) in the pass game a lot because he's got such good hand placement, good hand striking and he's so balanced in his feet,” Radunz said after the Titans selected him. “You never see him really leaning one way or another. He always seems cool, calm and collected when he's dropping back in his pass set, so looking at all those things.
“… I hope I can emulate what he brings to the Titans and that aggressive style of football to that offensive line.”
If he does, Tennessee will have a matching set of tackles. Radunz is one of several candidates to fill the opening at right tackle, which was created by the release of last year’s starter Dennis Kelly.
According to Lewan, though, Radunz’s best chance for success is to play his own game and let whatever similarities there are show up on their own.
“The worst thing you can do in this league is to try to be someone you’re not,” he said. “I’ve fallen into that trap before, whether it was in college or the beginning part of my [NFL] career. … There is a bit of a pecking order in the NFL, and (rookies) are working to earn respect.”
“… It’s cool that I have a teammate that watched my game [when he was] in college and appreciates the way I play. … He’s a little shy around me, I feel like, when I get up to him, hang out with him, talk to him. He’s kind of quiet around me.”
Of course, Radunz made his feelings about Lewan clear weeks before they became teammates.