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Film study: What will Dion Lewis bring to the New York Giants?

Veteran running back may have lost a step, but he still has value

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There it is folks, another former New England Patriots’ player has signed with the New York Giants. Dion Lewis reunites with Joe Judge on a one-year deal. What can the seven-year veteran, who turns 30 in September, do for the Giants? Let’s turn to the film to find out.

Lewis was the change of pace, third-down back for the Tennessee Titans the last two seasons. More of a pass-catching back, Lewis had 25 catches for 164 yards and one touchdown in 2019, while rushing for 209 yards on 54 rushing attempts, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. In 2018, Lewis had slightly more success with 59 receptions for 400 yards and one touchdown, with 517 yards on 155 rushes (3.3 yards per attempt), along with another touchdown on the ground.

Lewis signed a four-year $20 million contract with the Titans in 2018. He underwhelmed as the change of pace back behind Derrick Henry and he was released last week. Lewis is known for his receiving ability. That’s something he did at a high level in New England, similar to Kevin Faulk, James White, and Shane Vereen, a name Giants fans know well. There’s uncertainty with Wayne Gallman’s status on the roster, so Lewis may have the chance to be the primary backup for Saquon Barkley this season.

In the first clip you can see a choice route by Lewis. The defender gives up inside leverage and Lewis goes to the middle. Lewis elevates for the catch and still makes the safety Rashed Jones (20) coming downhill miss in space. The ability to make defenders miss in space has been a staple of Lewis’ game, and I love how he always seems to fall forward when he has a head of steam, despite his 5-foot-8, 195-pound frame. The second clip shows Lewis leaking out of the backfield, by avoiding the grab of Shaq Lawson (90) and finding open space. Lewis shows good concentration, body adjustment, and hands to pluck the ball out of the air, then make a man miss in space. Despite deteriorating athleticism, Lewis can still make people miss in tight quarters due to his contact balance and quick change of direction skills in small areas.

Speaking of contact balance, Lewis does a good job running through arm tackles. Lewis is accustomed to receiving the handoff on draw plays, like the one above. Lewis is put in the alley against T.J. McDonald (22) where Lewis sticks his outside foot in the ground and shimmies into McDonald, who fails to make the tackle. Lewis has the necessary contact balance to run through arm tackles, and you can see the balance in tight quarters that Lewis possesses. In the next clip Lewis sees the hole develop and breaks the tackle of linebacker Donald Payne (54), while making the safety miss in space. Lewis still has that ability in space, and the smarts to utilize his patience to set up blocks.

Here are some clips of his patience from 2018. Inside zone from the shotgun and Lewis is reading the double-team block from his center and play side guard. Lewis sees Kiko Alonso (47) take away the backside A-Gap, so Lewis jump cuts behind the play side guard and waits for the guard to come off the double team and locate the SAM Raekwon McMillan. Lewis gets Alonso to over-commit outside and then he hits the hole right as the guard comes off the double team to locate McMillan. Very good timing, patience, and ability to trust his teammates here. A short gain, but an underrated run from Lewis. The second clip is on a third down and the Dolphins twist their 3-technique and wide rusher, with the far 1-technique, but the blocking does an excellent job picking it up. Lewis stops in the backfield and allows for those blocks to develop. Again, that shows one of the most underrated qualities about being a running back — patience.

Here are more examples of Lewis’ ability to wait for blocks to develop. The Dolphins commit hard to the outside zone rushing play, but Lewis sees a cutback lane, which springs him into space against Rashed Jones (20). Lewis spins off the poor tackling attempt to gain big yards. Against the Texans in 2019, Lewis and the Titans run a HB-counter that is designed to go off edge, and you see LB Zach Cunningham shoot the C-gap. Off the edge, Jonathan Joseph (24) is the contain defender and Lewis does an excellent job avoiding the player, who is attempting to box him inside. Poor job by Joseph, but very good decisiveness from Lewis to find the hole and get skinny through the gap.

Due to his smaller stature, Lewis has the ability to “hide” behind linemen, and the ability to get skinny through holes, like you saw above. Both of these clips are from Week 16 of 2019, a game that most fantasy players with Derrick Henry remember, because he wasn’t there, so Lewis received the start.

At home, against New Orleans’ stout run defense, Lewis rushed 15 times for 68 yards, and added a catch for 19 yards. Lewis used two jump cuts to find the hole in the B-Gap. He reduces his overall surface area to avoid Cam Jordan (94) and he finds the space between his blocks for a big gain. Marshon Lattimore (23) has a good angle on Lewis, but you can still see the lack of burst in space. The second clip is an inside zone run where Lewis sees the hole and attacks. Lewis is able to get small through the hole for a nice gain. While he can have effectiveness finding yards at the line of scrimmage due to his decisiveness, I’d still be remiss if I didn’t mention his blocking.

Lewis can pass protect. Don’t let his smaller frame deceive you. Watch in both videos, all four clips, how he excels in protection. Does a solid job identifying the blitz, squaring up, and even anchoring down against much bigger and more explosive players. Above, we see Lewis effectively picking up a 0-technique on a stunt, two blitzing middle linebackers through the A-gap, and one picking up a linebacker off the edge. Lewis does a good job using strength, positioning, and leverage at the point of attack in pass protection. I saw better form within the box, than on the edge, maybe due to the overall angle difference; but either way, he’s a lot better in pass protection than any other running back on the Giants’ roster, and I know Joe Judge will value that detail. This is the part of his game that Giants’ fans should be most excited about.

Final thoughts

Lewis’ athletic ability has degenerated over his time in Tennessee, which is problematic, although he can still be slippery in small spaces, as you saw above. I wasn’t a huge fan of the signing in the beginning. Even though he just turned 30, Lewis has lost a noticeable step or two since his days in New England. I don’t see the same burst through the hole and his long speed has faded. With that said, Lewis’ value, to me, lies in blitz pickup, which makes me enjoy the signing a bit more. His ability to execute assignments as a chip and release running back and in pure blitz pickup are valuable.

If you don’t think that’s a need, I implore you to watch the Giants Week 10 matchup against the Jets, where Jamal Adams dominated the protections of Pat Shurmur’s offense. Lewis picked up blitzes at a high level on a Bill Belichick-coached team, which isn’t easy. He’s a smart player, which has been a trend in the offseason for the Giants, but I wouldn’t rely on much from a pure production standpoint, outside of some check-downs and yardage on draw plays. Like Martinez, he’s a familiar face who can bring leadership and a winning mentality. Part of me wanted the Giants to use a seventh-rounder or bring in a UDFA running back after the draft, but there’s no chance that hypothetical player would be as well versed in protections as Lewis. For that reason, and if the money is reasonable, which I imagine it is, I can’t bash a small veteran deal.