As a Bills fan it’s very hard to find a reason to support the New England Trumps, but when one of our own is suiting up for the Evil Empire it’s necessary to find a way to rep Albany’s own.
Dion Lewis path to the NFL began at Albany High before switching over to Albany Academy followed by a year at the New Jersey prep school, the Blair Academy. Eventually, he was asked to fill the shoes of recently departed star, LeSean Shady McCoy, at the University of Pittsburgh.
Standing well below 6 feet tall, Lewis only managed to secure two other scholarship offers (Miami (OH) and Tulane) before finding a home with the Pitt Panthers and head coach Dave Wannstedt.
“Barry Sanders was the quickest I ever saw in terms of making a guy miss in a hole. Dion isn’t Barry Sanders, but he had some of that same make-a-guy-miss-in-a-hole quickness. Plus he had 4.5 speed to outrun you. He could catch. He did things you can’t coach.” – Dave Wannstedt
Lewis was asked to step in as a freshman and replicate the outstanding year McCoy had in 2008 where he scampered for nearly 1,500 yards and 21 TDs.
Lewis would rise to the challenge and then some, breaking McCoy’s Pitt freshman points scored record as well as Tony Dorsett’s Big East Freshman rushing record on his way to a healthy collection of accolades.
Dion would only stick around the Pitt campus one more year after his breakout freshman campaign and found himself selected in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Once again he found himself in McCoy’s shadow and limited opportunities before front office and coaching staff turnovers would lead him to a tumultuous start to his NFL career.
The arrival of Chip Kelly and his affinity for big running backs signaled the end to Lewis’ time in Philly and was banished… errr… traded to the Cleveland Browns in April 2013.
Lewis would impress in the preseason before breaking his leg and was sidelined for the entire 2013-14 season and just a year later would find himself cut and without a team.
During the 2014-15 season be on an active NFL roster for exactly one week with the Indianapolis Colts in early September before being cut yet again.
However, like they always do, the Patriots saw something in Lewis and signed him to a future/reserve contract on December 31st, 2014.
Mike Lombardi, who worked in the front office that acquired Lewis in Cleveland had found a chance to dust off this diamond he had already extracted from the rough two years prior.
The Patriots were able to make a distinction that every other front office had been unable to:
“Dion is a short running back. He’s not a little running back.” – Mike Lombardi
Lewis made his Patriots debut nearly a year later on September 10th, after not taking a snap in roughly two years, and recorded 120 yards from scrimmage.
In limited action during the 2015-16 season, before an ACL sidelined him, Lewis rewarded the Patriots for seeing in him what 31 other teams had failed to – a unique combination of toughness and elusiveness.
“Jitterbug” or “Little Dirty” as Patriots wide receiver, Julian Edelman, affectionately calls him, has the rare ability to play like a much larger back while not sacrificing his speed and knack of leaving defenders on their knees with shredded ankles.
It’s no secret that small, fast backs with route running abilities can cause havoc for opposing defenses. The Darren Sproles and Dion Lewis type players of the world are absolutely nightmare matchups for linebackers and are deadly when they get the ball in space.
These players are labeled “change of pace” backs, an almost derogatory term at this point, and are often relegated to third down duty.
However, at 5-8 195 lbs., Lewis is most certainly a change of pace back, but he his ability to run between the tackles allows him to utilize this role on 1st and 2nd down instead of solely third.
This wrinkle gives the Patriots the uncommon ability to flip flop between LeGarrette Blount, who is a goddamn mountain of a man, and Lewis depending on which style serves them best in a particular game.
This advantage and Lewis’ versatility was on full display last Saturday night when he became the first player in NFL playoff history to record a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in a single game.
Over the past two injury-shortened seasons the Patriots are an astounding 15-0 when Lewis is in the lineup.
Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers we’ll see Lewis matched up against the 19th ranked defense in terms of DVOA in pass plays to running backs and he will surely have ample opportunities in what has the feeling of a high scoring game.
Allegiances aside, the 518 will be represented by arguably the most important non-QB in this year’s playoffs with a chance to cement his position as one of the most feared players in the NFL.