The Buffalo Bills have invested quite a bit into their receiving corps over the past few seasons, spending two firsts and a fourth-round pick on Sammy Watkins in 2014, second and third round picks on Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in 2013 and a third-round pick on T.J. Graham in 2012, in addition to trading a sixth-round pick for Mike Williams last year and signing Percy Harvin to a lucrative free agent deal in March. However, while receiver wasn’t exactly a pressing need on the roster, the Bills still lacked a wide receiver with size that can consistently win in contested-catch situations—particularly in the red zone. After addressing various needs at other positions on the offensive side of the ball during the 2015 NFL Draft, the Bills selected Dezmin Lewis out of Central Arkansas in the seventh round.
Dez Lewis, who stands 6’4” and weighs 215 pounds, had an extremely productive collegiate career, catching 197 passes for 2,618 yards and 24 touchdowns. Lewis dominated his competition for four years, before earning an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he continued to impress. Some scouts had projected Lewis to be drafted as high as the fourth round, but questions regarding the level of competition he faced, coupled with his poor route running ability caused him to slide to the seventh round.
Coming out of the FCS, Lewis will undoubtedly need a bit of an adjustment period to acclimate himself to playing against NFL-level cornerbacks. But, his skillset and physical style of play should allow him to win early on in similar ways to what he did in college. In the following clip from the Senior Bowl, Lewis shows a “my ball” mentality that you expect to see out of a 6’4” wideout. He gets an outside release on a go route, then shows the ability to track the ball, position his body in order to “box out” the defender and attack the ball at it’s highest point, preventing the cornerback from making a play.
Lewis consistently demonstrated this ability to use his size as an advantage throughout his career, whether he was shielding a defender from the ball, or jumping right over his man to make a tough grab.
He’s a natural hands-catcher and regularly attacks the ball away from his body, even when he’s in traffic– a trait that’s extremely important to have at the NFL level. Some receivers have a tendency to let the ball get into their body, which provides opposing cornerbacks an easier opportunity to break up a pass.
Lewis has good speed for his size, running a 4.58 at the NFL Scouting Combine and a 4.46 at his Pro Day. Central Arkansas routinely used him on screens and underneath crossing routes to show off that speed. In the following clip, Lewis takes a screen pass 90+ yards for a touchdown.
Here, he gets open on a short drag route, before making two defenders miss and running through another, before finally being tackled after a gain of more than 25 yards.
While many aspects of Lewis’ game translate well to the National Football League, he’ll have to develop as a route runner before he can be expected to take on a significant role. He takes too many false steps out of his breaks and will round off routes at the top of their stem. In the FCS, Lewis was able to get away with this against inferior athletes, but NFL cornerbacks will take advantage of this with speed and technique.
Overall, Lewis is a very intriguing player that has all the traits you want out of a possession receiver. He’s big, physical, has reliable hands, tough over the middle of the field and has decent speed. Early on, his route tree will likely be limited to go’s and comebacks, but these are routes where Lewis has the ability to dominate. He may not have much of an impact as a rookie, but having players like Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin, among others, ahead of him on the depth chart will allow coaches to be patient with his development.