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ANN ARBOR — Taylor Lewan knew what the experts at ESPN and CBS Sports had to say about his stock as a potential professional football player.
He considered what the NFL Draft Advisory board stated in a letter — that barring any disasters, Lewan would be a first-round draft pick in April.
He defied all of it.
Instead of pursuing the riches and recognition of the National Football League, Lewan chose to return to the Michigan football program for his final season.
“It was a tough decision, when you first look at it in black and white,” the left tackle said Wednesday in a press conference at the Junge Family Champions Center. “But when you really go into detail about it and really think and take the time to sit down and turn your phone off and think to yourself of all the things that are best for you, there was no doubt in my mind that I have to return to the University of Michigan and Team 134 and help lead this team.”
In making his decision to return to Michigan for a final season, Lewan continues a trend among the Wolverines’ offensive linemen — including Jake Long, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in 2008 — in returning to the Wolverines instead of leaving early to turn pro.
Not coincidentally, Lewan consulted Long in the process of making the decision as to whether or not to turn pro.
“The one message that Taylor and I talked about and he mentioned to me was, offensive linemen here, they stay,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “There’s been a tradition of that.
“The depth of the linemen that have played here and to be a guy who’s mentioned with those guys, that’s important.”
Lewan, a 6-foot-8, 309-pound redshirt junior, anchored an offensive line that allowed just 18 sacks for 131 yards — third in the Big Ten behind Northwestern (16 sacks allowed) and Indiana (17 sacks allowed). Behind the offensive line, Michigan’s backs had 502 carries for 2,389 yards rushing, including quarterback Denard Robinson, who led the Wolverines with 1,266 yards on 177 carries.
Had Lewan opted to leave, Michigan’s coaching staff would have had to fashion a new-look - and relatively inexperienced — offensive line. The Wolverines lost center Elliott Mealer and guards Patrick Omameh and Ricky Barnum to graduation.
“The maturity that he has shown is something he can bring to some of those young guys, when you look at how fast they will have to mature,” Hoke said. “When you’ve lived it and you’ve been through it, I think it’s a little easier.”
Lewan regarded Michigan’s 33-28 loss to South Carolina on Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl as a dress rehearsal for the NFL.
“With the game that I played, individually, I think that I played one of my best games,” Lewan said. “Of my career. And I really proved to myself that I could go to the NFL and be successful and do the things that I want to do.
“After playing in that bowl game, there were a lot of questions that came up about everything. How well I played, and stuff like that. But it really was a no-brainer at the end.”
Furthermore, Lewan disclosed how the NFL Draft Advisory Board assessed him in regards to the April draft, something he was unwilling to do in Florida prior to the Outback Bowl.
“The draft board came back and said I’d be a high first-round draft pick,” Lewan said.
In December, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. also projected Lewan as a first-round draft pick and as the No. 2 offensive lineman to be taken in April’s draft, behind Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, who declared for the NFL Draft on Tuesday.
Web sites CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com projected Lewan going as high as No. 7 in the draft, with Joeckel projected as a No. 1 pick.
Yet a day after Joeckel announced his intention to turn pro, Lewan said otherwise.
“When you say ‘NFL’ and ‘first round,’ that sounds amazing,” Lewan said. “But [a reporter] asked me, ‘what’s the reason why you would stay?’ And I asked her, ‘Have you ever played at the University of Michigan?’
“She said, ‘no.’ If you play at the University of Michigan, whether it’s basketball or hockey or football, there’s a tradition here. There’s something that you want to be a part of. If I do what I want to do, then I’ll be able to play in the NFL for however long. But you only get one more year of college.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.