When Pittsburgh Steelers fans think of the safety position which was vacated by Troy Polamalu upon his retirement a few months ago, the conversation typically gets directed towards names like Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas and even rookie Gerod Holliman. One name which rarely, if ever, gets discussed is Isaiah Lewis.
Lewis, maybe more known for his nickname 'Natural Born Killer', played his college football at Michigan State, and after going undrafted was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals only to be released after not making the team's 53-man roster. Lewis spent the 2014 season working at UPS until the Steelers signed him to a futures contract at the end of last season. If you are looking for one quote which could describe Lewis, his position coach at Michigan State, Harlon Barnett, certainly did the job:
"There are certain guys I call certain things, and Isaiah is what I call a natural born killer as far as his hitting ability on the football field. He's going to come and hit you all day every day. There's not many of them in the NFL. You get him, you got a football player."
Well, the Steelers got him, but what do they have in the former Spartan? Let's take a look at whether Lewis could be considered anything but a special teams player for the 2015 Steelers.
Some might scoff at Lewis' combine video, but it shows more than you think. Watch the entire workout and you see a player who has solid straight line speed, but struggles in and out of his breaks. His ball skills are average at best, but then again he is known for his physical play and not his ball skills. Certain aspects of his game resemble former Steelers safety Ryan Clark.
How physical is Isaiah Lewis? Watch this play:
Lewis was ejected from this game for "targeting", and something the Steelers know all too well from players like James Harrison and Clark who have been known for drawing 15-yard penalties due to hitting defenseless receivers or possibly breathing on opponents in an incorrect fashion.
Lewis is physical. It is tough to gauge both Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell after last season, but Lewis brings an anger to the secondary. On top of his anger is a fearlessness which certainly resembles the way Clark played the back half of the defense. Think back to the hit Clark put on Willis McGahee. Not every safety comes up to make that hit, and Lewis would be one of those safeties.
Despite a lack of ball skills, Lewis had some interceptions in his time at Michigan State. None were bigger than this pick-six vs. Michigan:
Lewis had a great break on the ball and shows the value of studying your opponent as he knew where Denard Robinson wanted to go with the football in a pre-snap read. Pressure up the middle combined with a sloppy route equate to Lewis putting himself in position to make a play on the football, which he does and takes it back to the house.
It is far fetched to think Lewis will see time in a standard defense for the Steelers in 2015, but as a special teams contributor he certainly could help the team next season. Lewis seems capable of filling a role similar to Robert Golden as a backup safety and a special teams ace. Some might see it as a long-shot, but fans should remember another player who played with anger and an edge who turned out to be okay - James Harrison.
For a full complement of Lewis' accomplishments at Michigan State, check out this final video: