Thursday, the National Football League will kick off its 75th annual player draft, now a three-day made-for-television extravaganza carried live on ESPN and the NFL Network. For the first time, the draft’s first round will be held on Thursday night, with the drama and theater of the event moving straight to Primetime. 32 players will be anointed as a team’s first-round selection on Thursday and will almost instantly become multimillionaires.
After opening night, the spotlights will turn down a notch, Commissioner Roger Goodell will hand over the duties of announcing picks to a deputy and NFL teams will get down to the business of making the remaining 223 picks of the draft. These picks will be more calculated gambles than surefire bets, with teams in later rounds taking flyers on players that they view as underrated or overlooked.
Most players tabbed in the late rounds will never make the final cut for NFL rosters in August. A few of these bets will pay off in monumental fashion—with the sixth-round selection of three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady perhaps the most notable example. But out of 2010’s class of draft-eligible players, there might not be one player that merits a late-round shot at an NFL roster more than Duke’s own Thaddeus Lewis.
Lewis wrapped up a record-setting Duke career this fall by finishing as the ACC’s second all-time passing leader, with his career total of 10,065 passing yards ranking only behind N.C. State’s Phillip Rivers in the record books. Lewis’s steady hand at the helm of David Cutcliffe’s offense over the past two seasons was a fundamental element of the Blue Devils’ recent football resurgence. His strong body of work earned him a trip to February’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where just over 300 top prospects work out in front of all 32 NFL teams.
“They said I did well, went out there and threw the ball well,” Lewis said of his combine workout. “I just did what I needed to do. I worked out and competed in front of all 32 teams, and a lot of guys didn’t [get that opportunity].”
Measured up alongside his combine contemporaries Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy, Lewis doesn’t particularly jump off the paper. Although Lewis put in a strong showing at the combine, including running the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash time at his position, the prevailing measures and metrics that grade NFL quarterback prospects aren’t favorable to him. At 6-foot-1, Lewis is a hair shorter than most NFL teams would like. And although he was a prolific passer with the Blue Devils, Lewis doesn’t quite have the top-flight arm strength that league offensive coordinators covet.
But in evaluating Lewis’s intangibles, there’s plenty for NFL teams to like. From the moment he took over in the second series of his freshman opener against Richmond until his final snap senior year, Lewis played under the direction of three different offensive coordinators. For each of his first three seasons, Lewis was burdened with learning a new offensive scheme in just a few months before being thrown right into the action in the fall.
But as his success on the field at Duke indicates, the mental challenge was but a small hurdle and was a formative experience that is a great indicator of his ability to grasp the complexities of a pro-style offense. Correspondingly, Lewis felt he excelled in the intense, one-on-one interviews that teams conduct at the combine.
“I got good feedback, and some of the guys said, ‘If I didn’t know your system, now I know [it]. You did a good job regurgitating what you learned from Coach Cut, and that’s a good sign of a good quarterback.’”
And in the same vein, two seasons under the tutelage of a highly regarded quarterback guru such as Cutcliffe has prepared Lewis well for the challenges of the NFL. His play this season was enough to have one fellow ACC coach, Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen, proclaim that Lewis “is definitely an NFL prospect.”
But even more effusive praise of Lewis came from Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. “I keep telling everybody that there’s not 90 quarterbacks in the world better than Thad Lewis,” Roper said in an interview with ESPN.com. “You look at 30 [NFL] teams having three quarterbacks. Thad is a good football player and should end up playing in that league in some role.”
Although Lewis has recently drawn some additional attention from individual teams—he participated in a private workout with his hometown Miami Dolphins in early April—Duke’s record-holding signalcaller knows that his NFL chances are far from guaranteed. Lewis said that he would definitely pursue opportunities as an undrafted free agent if his name is not called in New York. But after hearing him make the pitch for himself at Duke’s Pro Day in March, it’s hard not to be pulling for Lewis as NFL teams work down their draft boards this weekend.
“He’s a guy with a great work ethic who has the ability to make the guys around him better,” Lewis said of himself when asked how he would describe his strengths to an NFL general manager. “He is a team player, a hard worker, and he is a leader. He’s going to give you everything he has.
“If you make that investment in me, I’ll make sure you’ve made the right investment.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.