At the end of the season, the Jets signed several players to futures contracts for the 2021 season. We’re going to take an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses for each of them over the next few weeks, continuing today with cornerback Zane Lewis.
The 22-year old is listed at 6’1” and 190 pounds and was undrafted out of Air Force last season. Lewis spent training camp with the Arizona Cardinals but then was picked up by the Jets and spent all season on their practice squad. He was not elevated to the active roster during the season.
Lewis entered his junior season at Air Force with just six career tackles, as he hadn’t played as a freshman and mostly played on special teams as a sophomore.
Despite coming off the bench in the season opener, Lewis would start the last 11 games of his junior year in 2018, recording 43 tackles, six passes defensed and five tackles for loss.
In his senior year, Lewis was fourth in the nation with 15 passes defensed and set his career-high with 45 tackles having started every game. He was named as an honorable mention selection by the coaches from the Mountain West conference for his efforts.
Some mock drafts had Lewis listed as a potential late round pick but he eventually went undrafted, although the Cardinals signed him as a priority free agent, paying him the highest bonus ($20,000) of all their undrafted rookies.
Lewis was released at the end of training camp, but the Jets claimed him off waivers, then released him to the practice squad a few days later. He remained there all year and signed a futures deal the day after the season.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Lewis brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Lewis turned some heads at his pro day, where some teams had him clocked at around 4.35 for the 40-yard dash, although his official time was recorded as 4.45.
Most of the rest of his numbers were about average, with a disappointing eight bench press reps despite the fact his coaching staff had acknowledged in the previous offseason that he needed to build his strength.
He has decent height at 6’1” but his arm length is only just above average and his wingspan is below average.
At Air Force, Lewis played as an outside cornerback the whole time, although he’d step into the box when there was no receiver on his side of the field.
Lewis definitely improved from his junior to his senior year and his numbers reflect this. He had given up over 600 yards and three scores in 2018, but gave up less than 300 and only one touchdown in 2019.
The book on Lewis is that he often lines up too far off his man, but he showed an ability to sit in zone coverage and react to jump routes on this play.
Technically, he seems sound in terms of backpedaling and going through his transitions, although there are times when he is a step slow to react to his man’s initial release.
One area where Lewis needs to improve is in terms of turning to locate the football. He generally does get his head turned but then is occasionally unable to make a play on the ball at the catch point because he is off balance or tracks the ball too late. This affects him on this long touchdown.
On the whole, he has the speed to run well with his man on deep balls and, in fact, didn’t give up a single 30-yard play in 2019.
Lewis showed his ability to make plays on the ball by racking up 15 pass breakups in 2019. On this play, he is in a great position and just about gets his head turned in time to instinctively bat the ball away, leading to a turnover.
He only had two interceptions in his career, although he missed a couple of opportunities where he had two hands on the ball but couldn’t come up with it.
On the two interceptions Lewis did have, each of them was returned 99 yards for a touchdown. This one saw him make a leaping catch in front of his man.
Tackling was identified as one area where Lewis needed to improve. To his credit, he did improve his tackle efficiency as a senior, reducing his total number of missed tackles from 13 to nine.
Lewis has good closing speed and usually takes good angles in pursuit. He had one forced fumble in his college career.
Physicality was another area where Lewis needed to improve. He was outmuscled at the catch point at times and didn’t jam his man at the line much in press coverage.
On this play, you can see how Lewis is blocked out of a play and unable to prevent the receiver from getting to the edge to convert on third and long.
Scouting reports also indicate that Lewis doesn’t offer much against the run, although he did grade out reasonably well and made several stops against the run in 2018.
In 2019, he was less productive against the run and recorded no tackles for loss having had five the previous season.
Lewis gets himself into positions to make plays when not blocked but his lack of strength can allow runners to drag him for extra yardage or break away from him.
Since he’s played on the outside, it’s been extremely rare for Lewis to blitz. He recorded just one pressure in his college career.
Over the past two years, Lewis’ main appearances on special teams have been on the defensive unit on placekicking attempts. He’s also played as a vice at times on the punt team.
In 2017, he did more, including on kickoff coverage, where he registered three special teams tackles, including one on a play where he stopped the return man at the 13-yard line. He also made this play on the kick coverage unit.
While he doesn’t have any experience as a return man, he did have those two 99-yard interception returns, one of which saw him break several tackles, so perhaps he could be effective as a kickoff returner.
Lewis gives the impression of being a player who reacts rather than anticipating, but every now and then he will sniff out a play impressively.
On this play, he is caught out by the action going to the right and pulls himself out of position to help prevent the throwback screen.
Lewis went to a military school, so clearly he would be disciplined and adopt a serious approach, along with characteristics of loyalty, determination and a good work ethic. He also has a close relative with an NFL pedigree, as his cousin was longtime NFL veteran Shawn Springs.
On the field, his discipline has been okay with three penalties in 2018 and the same amount in 2019. He has a tendency to grab and times and can be a bit too handsy at the catch point.
Injuries don’t appear to have affected Lewis, who started 24 games in a row to close out his Air Force career.
Lewis doesn’t have any experience as a slot cornerback or defensive back, so the team will obviously be trying to look to develop his raw technical coverage skills and athletic abilities into an option who can contribute on the outside.
The new coaching staff play plenty of zone coverages and Lewis’ positional abilities and quickness to react could make him a decent fit in such situations, because he played off his man a lot at Air Force.
Lewis is obviously a long-shot and probably a long term project but it perhaps doesn’t bode well for his chances that he didn’t get a chance to play last season. His best chance was right at the end of the year when Bless Austin was ill and the previously-benched Lamar Jackson found himself back in the starting lineup. Had Gregg Williams remained with the team, Jackson could still have been in his doghouse and then Lewis might have got his shot.
While Lewis has some good potential, which manifested itself in his improved numbers from 2018 to 2019, he doesn’t have elite athleticism, isn’t particularly versatile and may not contribute much on special teams. There’s a lot working against him, therefore, but the new coaching staff will presumably come in with an open mind, so he’ll get a chance to show them what he’s capable of.