Brian Lewerke plans to follow this week’s NFL Draft pick by pick.
It’s what he’s always done as a fan of football, tuning in to three days of players hearing their name called, the next step in fulfilling their dreams of playing at the highest level.
But things have changed this year, and it’s only partly due to the fact the draft will have a different look and feel as the NFL attempts to hold what is becoming one of its biggest annual events in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of teams, players and fans gathering for three days of selections, this year’s draft will be conducted remotely.
So, no players with hats on, holding up team jerseys and hugging the commissioner.
That’s not all that’s changed for Lewerke, though. Instead of simply watching, this time the former Michigan State quarterback is expecting to hear his name called.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Lewerke said on “The Green Room,” the News’ Michigan State podcast. “I’m just waiting for the time to pass by. I don't have much going on this week besides probably throwing (on Tuesday). But other than that, I'm just kind of sitting around, laying outside, doing some yard work maybe. I'm just kind of waiting for time to pass and I'm very excited for Thursday, Friday or Saturday.”
Up and down the board
Trying to nail down when, or if, Lewerke gets selected is difficult. Opinions seem to vary greatly on the quarterback who finished his career with more total yards (9,548) than any player in program history. He’s ranked the No. 10 quarterback in the draft by CBS Sports and is No. 13 at ESPN.
Analysts see plenty to like about the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Phoenix, from his arm strength to his understanding of the game. However, they’ve also done a good job of picking him apart, questioning his accuracy and confidence in his throws.
“He looks the part from an operational standpoint with good size and mobility, but he's been unable to inspire confidence in his ability as a field leader,” Lance Zierlein wrote on NFL.com. “The traits and talent are absolutely worth a look, but the spotty confidence and issues with ball placement could be hard to overcome.”
Added Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network, “Lewerke to me, he's a late-round player. He's a seventh-round free-agent-type player for me. Although I will say I've talked to some folks around the league, there's some quarterback coaches that have really fallen in love with this kid, and I say that in terms of fourth, fifth round. It would not shock me if he went a little bit higher than I thought he would.
“He's got nice velocity, I just have concern about his touch and decision making. I thought he held the ball a little bit too long. That was my concerns with him, but I would not be surprised if he ended up going a little bit higher than I have him.”
These are all criticisms Lewerke has heard over the past couple of seasons. After throwing for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns while running for 559 yards and another five touchdowns as a sophomore, big things were expected of Lewerke. Some were even mentioning him as a Heisman dark horse heading into 2018 and a quarterback that could end up among the best in the next year’s draft.
Things went the wrong direction, though, as Lewerke struggled to open the 2018 season then suffered a shoulder injury halfway through.
“I couldn't really raise my elbow up above my shoulder,” Lewerke said, “and I was still trying to play through it.”
The numbers dropped because of it and, even though Lewerke threw for 3,079 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2019, the critics never backed off as the Spartans’ offense sputtered, leading Michigan State to back-to-back 7-6 seasons to close Lewerke’s career.
It all forced Lewerke to spend his final two years doing his best to tune out the negativity.
“When I was in college my first year I would search my name after like every game,” Lewerke said. “I wasn't a high-level recruit coming in. I was a three- or four-star, but I wasn't the No. 1 guy in the class and people weren't really talking about me. Then when I started playing, it's just kind of cool to hear your name being thrown out there in the college football world. So, you want to you want to look up stuff and see what people are saying. Sometimes it's not the greatest.”
It hasn’t changed all that much now that Lewerke has gone from a three-year starter in college to NFL prospect. There’s the talk about his lack of accuracy and the fact he never really built on his solid sophomore season.
Lewerke thinks he did well to answer some of the critics at the NFL Combine where he says he played well and “killed it” in the interviews.
Still, as the draft nears, there are questions. Some are legitimate, others are odd. More than one analyst has questioned his athleticism, a bit strange considering Lewerke ran for 1,255 yards in his career.
“I don't really get that either,” Lewerke said. “Maybe people just base it off my 40 times out of the combine where I didn't run very well, and they see 4.95 and say, ‘This guy must not be fast.’ But I had 1,000 yards rushing and I was pulling away from guys on long touchdown runs. So if you watch the film, you'll definitely see that I'm an athletic dude. That's definitely something I hope to bring to the table for a team.”
In the meantime, Lewerke is back home with his parents in Phoenix. Things aren’t as strict as they are in Michigan and he’s been able to continue throwing with receivers while doing his best to come up with weights for workouts around the house.
He’s also keeping in contact with a handful of NFL teams through Zoom meetings, Facetime or traditional phone calls. He hopes one of those teams pulls the trigger and drafts him, though he isn’t making any predictions.
“I don't know. I really have no idea,” Lewerke said. “That’s kind of what my agent was saying, is that when he talks to teams, there's teams that really like me or a team that doesn’t even want to look at me at all. So it's kind of in between, depending on what team you talk to, but it is a little weird not knowing really at all where I’m gonna go.”
Born in Washington before moving to Arizona, Lewerke wouldn’t mind ending up in Seattle and said he even became a Lions fan during his time at MSU, though he admitted Michigan fans might have a tough time seeing him at Ford Field. Otherwise, somewhere warm would be good.
Ultimately, Lewerke will take whatever opportunity he gets. He’ll watch the draft with his family and feel content knowing he’s done all he can.
“I don’t feel too stressed,” he said. “Just because I really don't have any control about where I go. So there's no point in stressing about it.”