With all the hype surrounding LeSean McCoy’s new contract, people are forgetting that the running game does not rest solely on the shoulders of the 2009 second-round pick. In the 2011 draft, the Eagles drafted a small back from Shady’s alma mater, Pittsburgh, Dion Lewis. Lewis rarely saw the field during the 2012 season as the third back on the Eagles roster behind McCoy and Ronnie Brown.
Entering his second season, it is expected that Lewis can bring more to the field with a full offseason under his belt. With just 23 carries for 102 yards (4.4 yd avg) all of last season, Lewis spent most of his time returning kickoffs.
In 15 games Lewis returned 31 kicks for 669 yards (21.6 yd avg), good for 16th in the league. Of the 15 players ahead of him, only two had fewer returns than Lewis. With little to no college experience returning kicks, Lewis showed no growing pains in his rookie year and only fumbled the ball once.
Entering 2012, Lewis will be fighting with a rookie to possibly retain his position as the kick returner. Brandon Boykin returned 110 kicks in his three seasons at Georgia averaging 24.2 yards per return. Boykin returned four kicks for touchdowns including three in his sophomore year. The Georgia grad will certainly give Lewis a run for his money for a starting job on the roster.
With much speculation in the early offseason as to which free agent running back to sign, it looked like Lewis might be fighting for the backup spot in the backfield as well. By not signing any free agent backs, and not drafting one until the seventh round in April’s draft, it seems like the front office has some confidence in the fifth round pick from a year ago.
Despite the small stature, Lewis is confident and ready to compete with anyone who comes into the Eagles backfield. In a conversation with him before last year’s training camp, number 27 told me that he knew he could make a career out of playing football at just 11 years old.
While many comparisons are drawn between McCoy and Lewis based on the ability to make defenders whiff in the open field, Lewis says he likes to style his play after a different Pro Bowl running back, Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It is easy to see why an undersized back would liken himself to a player who could have faced similar challenges to get into the league. Listed at 5’8 but actually measuring at 5’6 5/8 at the 2011 Combine, the New York native is just 1/8 of an inch taller than MJD, and weighs about ten pounds less.
Lewis does not shy from contact and told me that he would describe himself as a back with great vision and quickness who likes to run inside. In his limited time last season and preseason, he showed some surprising moves both in crowded spaces in the middle and in the open field. These moves have earned him the nickname of “Baby Shady” by some.
If Dion can get anywhere near the 2011 Rushing Title winner in MJD or the Eagles current superstar running back, it will definitely be a more dangerous backfield than it already is. Regardless, with a year under his belt, Lewis will bring more to this offense than he did a year ago and will serve as a great compliment to 2011’s surprise player, LeSean McCoy.