Dion Lewis’ freshman season of 2009 at Pitt put him on the map. A 5’8″-195-lb running back ran all over the Big East. He broke multiple Big East and Pitt rushing records previously held by both Tony Dorsett and LeSean McCoy. Big East MVP, Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Second Team AP All-American, Doak Walker semifinalist and Maxwell Award semifinalist. Dion Lewis’ talent has never been questioned.
To put Lewis’ freshman season into perspective, compare his statistics to those of Kareem Hunt’s best college season.
2009 Pitt (FR) – 1988 total yards / 5.7 yards per touch / 18 total touchdowns
2016 Toledo (SR) – 1878 total yards / 6.2 yards per touch / 11 total touchdowns
Dion Lewis’ talent was undeniable. To put up better numbers as a freshman than NFL star Kareem Hunt did as a senior, presents pure evidence that from the beginning the talent has been there.
Drafted and Blocked
Due to concerns about Lewis’ lack of ‘NFL Size’, he fell to the fifth round where he was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Philadelphia, Dion Lewis was never given the opportunity to get on the field. He was being blocked, rightfully so, by LeSean McCoy: One of the best running backs in the NFL. Dion Lewis was still in search of the team where he could show the skills that helped him shatter numerous records back at Pitt.
Traded to Cleveland
In April of 2013, the Eagles traded Lewis to the Browns. At the time of the trade, Cleveland possessed a budding star at the running back position: Trent Richardson. Cleveland used a first round pick on Richardson, and in the 2012 season, they worked their 22-year-old running back to death. Many saw the addition of Lewis as a way to lighten Richardson’s load in the passing game. In 2012, Richardson caught more than 50 balls and was targeted 71 times. If Lewis was indeed going to help in the passing game, he certainly had a large opportunity to do so.
Any potential plan for Dion Lewis in the Cleveland offense never got to play itself out. In the preseason of 2013, Dion Lewis broke his fibula and suffered ligament damage.
There was potential for Dion to make a name in Cleveland. All hope came crashing down with the break of his fibula. The next season, Trent Richardson was traded away from Cleveland, leaving a larger-than-life hole that could have easily fit a 5’8″ 195 lb frame in it. The seriousness of Dion’s fibula break, however, ensured that he would never play a down of his contract for the Cleveland Browns. An enormous opportunity for Dion Lewis to showcase himself, stolen by injury.
New Team… No Opportunity
In September of 2014, the Indianapolis Colts took more than a flyer on the still-young running back. They signed him to a two-year contract. Dion’s time with the Colts lasted no longer than a week. The Colts decided to add defensive depth. When doing so, Dion was the counter-cut.
During the 2014 season, three months after being cut by the Colts, Bill Belichick came calling. Dion Lewis signed with the New England Patriots on a future deal for the 2015 season. Dion Lewis sat out the entire 2014 season, waiting for his opportunity in the 2015 camp.
Looking back, it seems Bill Belichick had a plan all along. Two running backs on the Patriots in 2014 were set to become free-agents after the season. The Patriots saw signing Dion Lewis to a future contract as an opportunity to add depth before they inevitably lost both of those backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to free-agency.
2015 New England Patriots Camp
A battle brewed in camp. Matter of fact, it was the talk of the camp. Who would play the passing back role for the New England Patriots? Long-time Patriot, Brandon Bolden? James White, who the Patriots spent a draft pick on? Other signee, Travaris Cadet? Journeyman Dion Lewis?
By the end of the preseason, it was clear to everyone that covered that team. Dion Lewis had won the ‘scat back’ role in New England. In case you aren’t familiar with how things work in New England, Bill Belichick isn’t one to announce who wins battles. Nothing was different in this instance. It was noticeable how much better and more prepared Dion Lewis was than the others in line. Come opening night, it proved true. Dion Lewis won the job.
Dion Lewis started as the primary running back on opening night vs the Steelers. He has LeGarrette Blount’s mishaps to thank for that. Blount was supposed to start Week 1 as the lead back. Sadly for him, he was suspended one game for an incident that happened the year before. Dion Lewis winning the ‘scat back’ role, and Blount’s suspension combined for the only true opportunity Dion had in the NFL up to this point.
Dion Lewis burst onto the map on September 10th, 2015 vs the Steelers. He finished with 19 total touches for 120 yards from scrimmage. Dion Lewis finally got the opportunity to show what made him a human video-game at Pitt, and boy did he ever. The lateral quickness was still there, and he could make cuts just the same as before snapping his fibula. “Lewis” jerseys instantly went into production, fantasy football players were hyperventilating as they scrambled their way through waivers to see if he was available. ‘Pitt Dion Lewis’ had landed in New England.
Dion’s Dream Season
Through just over six regular season games, Dion Lewis had piled up 622 yards from scrimmage, four total touchdowns and 36 catches.
He became a household name in New England. Dion Lewis tore up the NFL in his first ever opportunity to shine. Big play after big play, jump cut after jump cut, juke after juke, and spin after spin. Dion Lewis arguably became the ‘X-Factor’ of the Patriots offense through six games.
Defenses had no answer for him. A player his size usually excels outside of the numbers. Dion did exactly that. What made Dion so special and different was his ability to create space as a runner inside of the tackles. Dion continued to surprise everyone around him, especially opposing defensive coordinators.
As the Patriots approached the halfway point in the season, Dion Lewis entered the seventh game of his ‘rebirth’. The Washington Redskins were next up. Throughout the game, like every other team, Washington had no answer for Dion Lewis.
In the third quarter, Dion Lewis snagged a screen pass and shifted his way up the field. In an instant, a non-contact injury to his knee sent him leaping to the turf in order to avoid putting weight back on his leg.
Dion knew, Patriot fans knew, and as the broadcast showed, Matt Patricia knew. Dion Lewis’ dream season was over. The image of tears streaming down Dion’s face while getting an emotional pep-talk from coach Patricia… That will never leave the minds of Patriots fans. Dion had worked so hard for his opportunity. Multiple teams, fought through a gruesome injury, all to lose it again. Dion had gone through so much, and was forced to go through it all once more.
Dion Lewis watched the rest of the season from the sidelines with a torn ACL.
Dion Lewis spent the entire rest of the season and offseason in rehab, trying to get back on the field. Many at first believed that Lewis would make it back for Week 1 of the 2016 season. Sadly for Dion, he was forced to start the season on the PUP list, preventing him from seeing the field for the first six weeks.
While Week 7 was the likely scenario anyways, it was a setback during rehab that truly pushed the timetable back. Dion, eligible to play in the seventh game, didn’t see the field until Week 10, more than halfway through the NFL season.
While Dion Lewis was healthy enough, and did play in Week 10 for New England, being “healthy enough” falls short of the player that Dion was before injury. Regaining the quickness in and out of cuts that Dion possessed before his injury didn’t come back when he did. Not until Week 14 vs the 49ers did Lewis start showing signs of his old self. In that game he totaled 104 yards.
The first time that season that Dion Lewis truly was ‘Pitt Dion Lewis’ occurred in the Patriots first playoff match up vs the Texans. Dion Lewis scored three touchdowns. One receiving, one rushing, and one on a kick return. Dion Lewis looked electric again.
The Opportunity of Every Kids Dreams
Along came the Super Bowl: Patriots vs Falcons.
While Dion got to play all of regulation, he injured his hamstring on the final play of the fourth quarter. The injury wasn’t serious, but enough to sideline him for the entire first overtime quarter in Super Bowl history.
At the end of the day, the Patriots and Dion Lewis became Super Bowl champions. Not until long after the Super Bowl, during an NFL Network documentary where Bill Belichick revealed that the ‘Super Bowl clinching play’, a power toss, was designed specifically for Dion Lewis. Belichick said that only Dion had ever run that play before. With that said, the injury sidelined Lewis for the entirety of overtime. James White had to run that play, scoring the game-winning touchdown in overtime of the Super Bowl. That play was supposed to be Dion’s.
The end result was still just as glorious for Dion, with or without him being the one diving across the goal-line. Still, any player would be lying to say that they wouldn’t want that opportunity, another opportunity that was stripped away from Dion by injury.
On to 2017
Dion Lewis is healthy now, and it is very easy to tell. He makes jump cuts reminiscent of 2015. He’s running with the electricity of his Pitt days. Breaking long run after long run, Dion Lewis has worked his way back into the hearts of the Patriot faithful. The opportunities remain. If he stays in the injury-free zone, the sky’s the limit for Dion Lewis.
View the original article on Patriots Extra: Dion Lewis’ Search for Good Health and an Opportunity