UCLA TE Marcedes Lewis caught 10 touchdown passes in 2005 and ended the season as the Mackey Award winner
(The 2006 NFL Draft is scheduled to take place on the weekend of April 29-30, during which nearly 300 college standouts will enter into the professional ranks. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will run a series of features on these NFL hopefuls, taking a closer look at some of the names you'll be hearing on draft weekend. There is no correlation between the players chosen for these features and the Buccaneers' draft plans, and any mentions of draft status or scouting reports are from outside sources. Our current feature: UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis.)
What kind of tight end would you be getting if you drafted a player who combined the best attributes of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates? Why, the Mercedes of tight ends, of course…or in this case the Marcedes.
That would be UCLA's Marcedes Lewis, who referenced those two gold-standard tight ends when asked to describe his game at the recently-concluded NFL Scouting Combine.
"If I have to compare myself to anybody," said Lewis, "it would probably be a little mixture between Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, just because of my background with basketball. I feel that I'm able to position myself to catch balls in the air that some tight ends maybe couldn't."
Hey, the first rule of interviewing is not to sell yourself short, and what is the Combine if not one long job interview? Besides, even if it sounds like hubris, Lewis has a point. He does indeed have a strong basketball background, and it is those power forward-type skills that former cagers Gonzalez and Gates have put to use so well in the NFL. As Lewis summarizes: "I'm long, I can run and I'm pretty athletic."
Athletic and skilled enough at basketball to get nibbles out of high school from such hardwood powerhouses as UConn, Arizona and Cincinnati, Lewis chose UCLA because it was one school that wanted him to play both sports. But while basketball raised his profile, it was football that was in Lewis' blood.
"Basketball was just something I did to pass time, and I just happened to get good at it," he said. "Football, I've been playing since I was eight and that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to learn how to play tight end. That's what I went to UCLA for, to play tight end."
Mission accomplished. Over his four seasons as a Bruin, Lewis caught 135 passes for 1,696 yards and 22 touchdowns, and he capped it with a Mackey Award-winning season as a senior. The 2005 Bruins used a very high-powered offense to go 10-2 and win the Sun Bowl over Northwestern, with Lewis contributing 58 receptions for 741 yards and 10 TDs. His catch and touchdown totals were new single-season records for UCLA tight ends.
Lewis knows that playing in a prolific passing attack helped him showcase his skills.
"Winning the Mackey Award this year was probably more a tribute to my team, my teammates, as much as it was to me," he said. "Obviously, that was something that I looked forward to at the beginning of the year and set as one of my goals, but I wouldn't have gotten any recognition if it wasn't for my teammates. I'm happy I got it. I worked hard for it and that shows that hard work does pay off."
The 6-6, 261-pound Lewis has worked particularly hard at the blocking aspect of his position, as the receiving came naturally. He is now considered a complete prospect, perhaps a first-rounder this April, and he gives a good bit of the credit to Jon Embree, the position coach who arrived in Lewis' sophomore season and took over the tight ends in 2004.
Embree, who came over from Gary Barnett's staff in Colorado, is also the Bruins' assistant head coach. He convinced the inexperienced but driven Lewis that the path to increased playing time and, eventually, the NFL was through the helmet lined up across from him.
"Blocking to me now is just as good as making a catch and running a guy over, or making a catch and scoring a touchdown," said Lewis. "After my sophomore year, I got a different tight ends coach and he made me realize that if I wanted to be anywhere, I would have to put my face in somebody's helmet, so to speak. He would always tell me that this is your roof and we want to make you go through that roof. He's always brought the best out in me, and I look at blocking just like I look at catching."
Lewis is hitting NFL draft boards during a strong year for tight ends, by most analysts' estimation. Maryland's Vernon Davis may have leapt to the top of that position chart with an incredible Combine performance that included a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, but Lewis should be attractive to scouts as well due to his natural gifts and his production at UCLA.
"I'm not really worried about everybody else," said Lewis. "I think I'm competing more against myself. It's a good tight end group this year and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
The rigors of the Combine didn't faze him, either, and he'll have another chance to display his skills on March 17 at the UCLA Pro Day. A little over a month later, he'll have a new NFL home, and the wait for that information is the only part of the process that gives him pause.
"I think the biggest challenge is not knowing," said Lewis. "Not knowing where you're going, what city you're going to be in, who you're going to be dealing with. I think that's the biggest challenge. Everything else…football is football."