There are many unique paths to the National Football League for a player. However, the most common is to enroll at a big time program, make it to the field and perform well enough to get the pro scouts attention, perform well at the NFL Scouting Combine if invited or at your Pro Day, then get drafted.
Wide receiver Roger Lewis of Pickering Central High School was well on his way in that exact scenario in 2012 when he accepted an offer to play for the Ohio State Buckeyes that coming fall. But like many NFL players, he was forced to take the road less traveled in his quest for the NFL.
Before he could formally join the Buckeyes, Lewis ran into some serious legal issues that forced the Big Ten school to pull their offer. That coupled with a failure to qualify academically, Lewis found himself playing that fall at Jireh Prep in North Carolina instead of in front of 100,000+ in Ohio Stadium on Saturdays.
After spending the fall at Jireh, Lewis decided to come back to Ohio and signed with the Bowling Green Falcons. The Falcons under head coach Dave Clawson had just won the 2013 MAC title. But Lewis then got thrown another curve. In December, Clawson announced he was leaving for the Wake Forest job and the Falcons hired Eastern Illinois’ Dino Babers as its new head coach. It would be a move that would prove vital in Lewis’ ascension as a NFL draft prospect.
Lewis enrolled at Bowling Green in January and participated in spring practice and started to familiarize himself with the new offense Babers was installing. As a wide receiver, he had to like what he saw, as Babers touted a fast-paced offense that is predicated on running a play every 20 seconds. The offense also likes to throw the ball…a lot. And, you had MAC Championship Game MVP, Matt Johnson as your quarterback.
By the start of the 2014 season, Lewis was installed as a starter at wide receiver and big things were predicted for this new offense with Johnson at the controls. But fate once again had other plans for Lewis. In the fourth quarter of the Falcon’s opening game against Western Kentucky, Johnson got sacked and injured his hip and would be lost for the rest of the season.
Suddenly, Lewis was working with a quarterback in sophomore James Knapke, who had thrown a total of 10 passes his entire career. But that didn’t matter. Babers had an offense that blew apart defenses. Lewis started all 14 games and finished with 73 catches for 1,093 yards and seven touchdowns. He showed he could play against the "big boys" as he had 16 receptions for 149 yards in a win over Indiana, including the game winning score with just seconds on the clock.
Lewis was named All MAC First Team as a true freshman, something that hadn’t been done since 1982, and became the first player in Bowling Green history to have a 1,000 season receiving as a freshman.
Lewis certainly experienced no sophomore slump last year as he was finally paired with Johnson for a full year in Babers’ offense. He caught 85 passes for an astounding 1,544 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Falcons rolled to another MAC Championship and the accolades continued to roll in for Lewis as he was again named first team All MAC, third team Associated Press All American, and honorable mention All American by Sports Illustrated.
Rather than going through yet another coaching change when Babers left for Syracuse, Lewis announced we would make himself eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft. You couldn’t blame him for making the decision. His draft status was probably never going to be higher with a new coach and new quarterback coming. Plus, he had proved about all he could against defenses in the MAC.
Lewis was invited to the NFL Combine in March and had a performance that wasn’t very noteworthy. His 4.57 time in the 40 yard dash was labeled "disappointing" by many scouts. He finished near the bottom of all receivers by only doing eight reps in the bench press. His vertical jump was 33.5" and his broad jump was 116". Still some scouts praised his ability to catch the ball and his smooth route running ability in drills.
At his Pro Day later in March in Bowling Green, Lewis did improve on his jumps and his 40 time with a clocking of 4.40. Lewis measured in at six foot even, a couple of inches under his reported height on the Bowling Green roster.
Most prognosticators have Lewis going anywhere from the third to the seventh round in the upcoming draft. Still a few others have him going undrafted. It is certainly hard to ignore Lewis’ production in his two years with the Falcons. He showed an ability to separate, catch the long ball, and run after the catch. He was less impressive when asked to go over the middle and catch the ball in traffic.
I think Lewis has the ability to make an NFL roster and eventually compete. It will probably take a while for him to adjust to the size, speed and athleticism of players at the pro level, but then again it does for most any player at any position.
Lewis has had quite a journey at this point to get here at the threshold of a professional career. He should be fine if he continues to make the most of his opportunities.