Running back Dion Lewis shocked the world when he took over for Lesean McCoy as Pitt's starting running back. As a freshman Lewis went on to run for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first season. He followed that up with another 1,000-yard year when he gained 1,061 yards and added 13 scores.
He left early for the pros and was taken in the fifth round of the NFL Draft the next year. Lewis, though, didn't have the same type of success early on.
Backing up McCoy for the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie, he gained only 102 yards on limited opportunities. The following season, he played even less, recording only 69 yards. Sadly, those two seasons were actually the highlight of his career. After a trade to the Cleveland Browns, he sat out all of 2013 with a fibula injury. In 2014, he was signed by the Colts but released only a week after that.
For a while, it looked as if his NFL career might be over. That was until the New England Patriots came calling.
New England signed Lewis late last year and kept him for this season. So far, he's making the biggest impact of his career. The 15 carries he received in the team's opening day win against the Steelers were more than he had in all of 2012, the last time he played in the NFL. He didn't only play, but also started that contest in place of the suspended LeGarrette Blount.
Lewis' numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's playing regularly and contributing heavily. Through the team's first four games (not including Sunday night's game), he has 36 carries for 180 yards, good for a 5.0 yard-per-carry average. Just as importantly is what Lewis is doing as a receiver. He already has caught 23 passes for 238 yards and been targeted 30 times. Overall, Lewis has already amassed 20 total first downs and has three touchdowns. It's early, but so far, he's been one of the best dual-threat running backs out there. Heading into this weekend, he ranked fourth among backs in catches.
I've always thought Lewis could be an ideal third-down back. I'm not sure he can take the week in, week out pounding in the NFL, but is an effective receiver and can make things happen if he has some space.
There's no guarantee success lasts for Lewis and NFL careers and opportunities can be given and taken away just like that. But so far this season, he's proving to be a valuable player for a very good team and is just the latest Pitt guy to play well in the pros.
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