The Browns on Saturday selected Tulane CB Donnie Lewis with the No. 221 pick in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Lewis is the Browns’ seventh and final selection in the draft, following LSU CB Greedy Williams (No. 46), BYU LB Sione Takitaki (No. 80), Miami S Sheldrick Redwine (No. 119), Alabama LB Mack Wilson (No. 155), Oklahoma K Austin Seibert (No. 170) and Southeast Missouri State G Drew Forbes (No. 189).
Lewis was a three-year starter for the Green Wave, recording three interceptions apiece in his junior and senior seasons. He had eight for his career at Tulane, where he enrolled in 2014 and redshirted his first year.
Tulane cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr. visited the Texans on Thursday, according to a league source not authorized to speak publicly.
Lewis (6-foot, 195 pounds) also has visits with the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins.
Lewis suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot during an East-West Shrine All-Star Game practice.
Lewis intercepted three passes last season, returning one for a touchdown and recorded 56 tackles. He lined up at cornerback, safety and nickel.
For his career, Lewis had 160 tackles, seven interceptions, 37 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and a half-sack.
The Cleveland Browns recently held a pre-draft visit with Tulane cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr.
While the Browns continue to cling to the antiquated notion of not confirming these visits, Lewis Jr. took care of the announcement by posting videos on his Instagram account of the club’s field house and locker room, according to Nate Ulrich at The Beacon Journal.
A four-year starter for the Green Wave, Lewis finished his collegiate career with 160 tackles, seven interceptions, 37 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and a half-sack for the Green Wave, according to Eagles Wire.
A second-team All-American Athletic Conference selection in 2018, Lewis was versatile enough his senior year to play cornerback, nickelback and safety – all positions that the Browns could use some help with after trading starting safety Jabrill Peppers and allowing nickelback Briean Boddy-Calhoun leave in free agency.
Lost in space earlier in his career, Tulane senior cornerback Donnie Lewis has become the ruler of his own galaxy.
He was at least out of this world for most of the Green Wave’s game against SMU on Saturday. He made back-to-back tackles behind the line of scrimmage in the first half and returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter, exhibiting the supreme confidence he has gained in his fourth year as a starter.
Athletic Conference honor roll, recognition even though Tulane lost 27-23.
“It felt great,” he said of his first career interception return for a touchdown. “All of the hard work that I put in during the offseason finally paid off.”
Lewis, a Central High graduate, read the sideline pass perfectly on his interception, beating receiver James Proche to the spot and picking it off in stride, racing 49 yards to the end zone as Tulane went ahead 16-7. Proche lined up on the right, went in motion to the left and Lewis followed him across the formation.
“It was real good play-calling by our coaches,” said Lewis, whose team plays at Tulsa at 6 p.m. Saturday. “We’d been working on that motion look all week, saying, ‘This is what we do when we see it.’ So boom, I just saw it and trusted it with my eyes to make a play.”
Lewis has not always been that alert. Targeted often opposite two-time All-AAC cornerback Parry Nickerson in the past, he frequently failed to make a play on deep balls, even when he was blanketing a receiver. While Nickerson, now a member of the New York Jets, snagged 10 interceptions in the past two years, Lewis had half that total.
This year he already has three interceptions and is on pace for five or six even though opponents are shying away from him and attacking Tulane’s less experienced cornerbacks on the other side of the field.
“He’s really improved,” coach Willie Fritz said. “I really think he’s playing at an all-conference level. It’s great to see a guy develop like that. He’s certainly a much better player now, and that’s what should happen. He’s a hard-working guy. He really enjoys practice, and that’s why he’s gotten better.”
Lewis possessed the raw skills to excel from the beginning, starting nine times as a redshirt freshman in 2015, 10 times in 2016 and in every game last year, when he led the Wave with 13 pass breakups. Taking advantage of his experience and intelligence — Lewis already has a bachelor’s degree in public relations —defensive coordinator Jack Curtis uses him at a variety of spots.
His score against SMU came when he lined up off the ball as a nickelback rather than on the line in press coverage.
“He’s just a good, smart player,” Fritz said. “He understands the game. He really had a great grasp of what we’re doing and what the opponent is doing.”
Free safety Roderic Teamer, a fellow senior and longtime starter, has been predicting Lewis’ breakout for years and loves seeing it come to fruition.
“Donnie’s a really exciting player,” he said. “He’s always been athletic and long (6-0, 195 pounds), but the biggest difference this year is him understanding defenses. That’s going to carry him further in his career. I tell him all the time he’s a cornerback with a safety’s mind.”
That means providing run support, too. Lewis, whose 32 tackles lead all Tulane defensive backs, nearly single-handedly stuffed one SMU possession in the first half. He blitzed off his man to drop running back Braeden West for a 2-yard loss on first down and diagnosed a wide receiver screen to nail Proche for another 2-yard loss on second down.
It was part of a stretch when SMU lost 14 yards in nine downs while punting three times, making the Mustangs’ comeback from a nine-point deficit doubly frustrating. Tulane’s defense dominated them for long stretches, but the Wave (2-5, 1-2 AAC) could not finish, losing a game it really needed to win.
Tulane has lost two in a row since upsetting Memphis 40-24 in a game that was not even as close as the score indicated.
“It’s real tough, but as a team leader I’m trying to keep the guys together and tell them to put this behind us and learn from it,” Lewis said. “We just have to play with confidence and swagger. We know what we’re capable of, as you saw when we played Memphis. We have it in us. We just have to find a way to come out and play like that every week.”
Lewis was not perfect against SMU. He gave up a 16-yard touchdown on the possession after his interception return, when Reggie Roberson eluded his press coverage with a quick move and caught a pass from quarterback Ben Hicks before Teamer could get over to break it up.
That is life as a cornerback, though. Fritz said Lewis, like all good cover guys, bounces back from bad plays right away rather than dwelling on them.
His task is getting everyone else to recover just as quickly as he does. Already desperate, Tulane faces a must-win at Tulsa (1-6, 0-3) if it wants a bowl game to be anything but a pipe dream.
Lewis will get everyone pumped up before the game with his natural enthusiasm despite the Wave’s precarious position.
“It’s my job to keep the guys positive in the locker room,” he said. “It’s easy to point fingers and blame, but … we have to look ourselves in the mirror. I have amnesia personally being a cornerback, so I just try to take my game and help out with the team.”