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Michigan's Lewan in middle on stay-or-go decision

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Michigan's Lewan in middle on stay-or-go decision

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan has put himself in a position to make a lot of money this spring.

Lewan isn't sure if he's ready to cash in on his production and potential just yet.

The Associated Press All-America first-team selection is undecided about whether to stay for his senior season, and fifth year in college, or to enter the NFL draft.

``I'm leaning right in the middle,'' Lewan said in a telephone interview with the AP on Tuesday. ``To potentially be a top-five or top-10 pick is tough to pass up, but there's nothing like being in college because it's a great opportunity you only get once. There are pros and cons either way and I'll weigh them all after the bowl season.

``Right now, I'm focused on helping the University of Michigan win the Outback Bowl.''

That won't be easy.

Lewan will be going against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, another AP first-team selection, in an intriguing matchup on New Year's Day when the 19th-ranked Wolverines (8-4) play the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (10-2).

``I know Taylor has a lot of respect for Clowney, and he's looking forward to facing him,'' Wolverines offensive line coach Darrell Funk said.

Michigan gave up a Big Ten-low 15 sacks this season thanks in large part to Lewan, its 6-foot-8, 309-pound left tackle.

Clowney - a 6-6, 256-pound sophomore - had 13 1/2 sacks this year.

``He's very explosive player who plays every play to the whistle and never takes a snap off,'' Lewan said. ``It's a great opportunity to see where I'm at and where he's at and I'm excited about it.

``But it's not about me or him, it's about the University of Michigan playing South Carolina at the Outback Bowl.''

After the game, Lewan said he plans to spend several days in Louisiana with his girlfriend before returning to Ann Arbor in time to take classes on Jan. 8 - a week before he would have to declare for the draft.

``My coaches and teammates will know what I'm going to do first,'' he said. ``Then, we'll let everyone else know.''

Lewan, who is from Arizona, didn't think he could even play past high school.

``My dad told me, `You're going to have an opportunity to play college football,' after my junior year and I thought there was no way,'' he recalled. ``I didn't play on the offensive line until my senior year. I was awful as a nose tackle my freshman, sophomore and junior years. I played cornerback and quarterback in third and fourth grade, then didn't play from fifth through eighth grade because I hated contact.''

Now, players hate to get hit by Lewan.

He pushes piles when Michigan runs and keeps linemen and linebackers off quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson when they drop back to pass, helping the team average 385 yards of offense this season, which included losing to the top three teams in the AP poll.

Former Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez recruited Lewan out of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., and redshirted him as a freshman during the 2009 season. Lewan became a starter the next season and will make his make his 28th straight start at left tackle when Michigan plays South Carolina in Tampa, Fla.

Gil Brand, an NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys general manager, said if Lewan was his son, he'd tell him to come back for another season of college football.

``I think historically, offensive linemen that stay in school seem much better in the NFL,'' Brandt said. ``Taylor Lewan is a good player that is good enough to come out, but my recommendation to him would be to stay in school to get as much strength and experience as he can get before playing in the NFL.''

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Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

There were already some decent expectations placed on Antonio Gandy-Golden for 2020 — and then Kelvin Harmon went down. Now, the Day 3 selection is being labeled as someone who needs to really contribute to the Washington Football Team.

But is that too much to ask for a rookie who went on Saturday in the draft? Recent numbers indicate that answer may be yes.

From 2015 to 2019, 25 wide receivers were chosen in the fourth round, which is where Washington nabbed Gandy-Golden a few months ago. Here are some takeaways from looking back on how all of those guys performed in their first professional seasons:

  • Only one target topped 50 catches and 600 yards, and coincidentally enough, it was Jamison Crowder. Crowder caught 59 passes for 604 yards and two scores as a rookie for the Burgundy and Gold in 2015. The only other guy who came close to either of those marks was Antonio Callaway, who had 43 grabs for 586 yards and five touchdowns for Cleveland in 2018. Those are easily the two best performances by a fourth-round rookie wideout since 2015, so keep that in mind when discussing Gandy-Golden.
  • Out of that group of 25, 15 suited up for double-digit games for their teams during their first taste of the league. The average stat line for those 15 rookies was 17 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown in about 14 contests. That's meager. 
  • Just nine out of the 25 recorded a touchdown catch as a rookie, and only four (Crowder, Callaway, DaeSean Hamilton and Malcom Mitchell) visited the end zone multiple times.

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So, judging solely off of that data, it would appear that Washington shouldn't be prepared to lean heavily Gandy-Golden. And once you combine that history with other factors, such as the huge transition he's about to make from Libery to the NFL and the very limited offseason he's had thus far, then the outlook for Gandy-Golden becomes even dimmer.

There is a super simple counter argument, however, at least when it comes to comparing him to his past fourth-round peers, and it has to do with his potential playing time.

While the 22-year-old has to fight through a pandemic, something none of the above rookies can relate to and something that could be detrimental to his early career, he also may be in line for a massive share of snaps right away. Most players who go off the board where Gandy-Golden did are usually worried about simply making the team; he, on the other hand, very well could be a starter across from Terry McLaurin in Week 1.

That alone means Gandy-Golden could end up having enough involvement in the offense to come up with a Crowder-like, impactful debut. In 2019, McLaurin far surpassed other third-round rookie receivers due largely to the amount of opportunity he got with Washington (his ridiculous talent was a bonus of course, too). Gandy-Golden is tracking on a similar path. 

A fairly general rule for any franchise is that it's not exactly prudent to need a Day 3 pass catcher to immediately act as one of your primary weapons. Stats from 2015 to 2019 seem to back up that general rule.

Every rule has an exception here or there, though. Maybe Gandy-Golden, with his outstanding physical traits and possibly featured role in 2020, will be that next exception and make all this math and comparing a totally moot issue. 

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Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Whether it actually matters is debatable, but what position Rui Hachimura best profiles for long-term has been a point of contention among fans and media members ever since he was drafted by the Wizards ninth overall last summer. He is what not long ago would be described as a 'tweener,' or somewhat of a cross between a small forward and a power forward.

Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal has put some thought into it and has now weighed in. He thinks Hachimura will be a small forward.

"Honestly, I think Rui is going to end up being a three. When his career is over with, he's going to end up playing the three," Beal explained during Sunday's Wizards-Nets broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

"I don't know what that's going to look like next year or what we're going to jump to, but you can see spurts of it. You can see he can handle the ball, he's comfortable with handling the ball. Obviously, we can improve that and make that better. He shoots the three comfortably."

That last point could probably be picked apart a bit and it does hold some importance in the argument. If Hachimura is indeed going to be a small forward, he will need to add some perimeter skills to his game.

Three-point shooting would be included in there and so far there certainly seems to be room for improvement. This season, he is shooting just 27 percent from three on 1.7 attempts per game. 

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In the three games the Wizards have played in Orlando, Hachimura is 0-for-1 from long range. He didn't attempt any threes at all in their first two games of the restart.

The reason why it is an interesting debate is Hachimura doesn't fit the traditional norms for either the three or four position. And that could be a good thing, as former teammate C.J. Miles pointed out in November. When you don't match up perfectly with opponents in any specific position, sometimes that means you are a mismatch for anyone who is guarding you.

Beal himself went on to rave about Hachimura's versatility.

"He's super athletic, so he can use his size to post up. So, the versatility is there. It's just a matter of what we want to mold him into," Beal said. "I think the sky's the limit. He has the ability, he has the work ethic, so I'm definitely excited to see."

RELATED: NBA PLAYERS BRING UP KAWHI COMPARISONS DESPITE RUI'S ROUGH GAME

Hachimura not having a true position could be an advantage. What the Wizards will need to determine, however, is how to complement his skillset with other players as they continue to build their roster. 

Whether Hachimura is a three, a four or even a small-ball five, the best way to maximize his strengths will be to fill in the gaps around him. Putting a rim protector alongside him, for instance, would allow him to roam and switch on defense. Having teammates who space the floor will create openings in the midrange, where he is very effective scoring the ball.

Those involve more important questions than what position Hachimura will ultimately be defined by. But it's still a fun debate to have and now even Beal has been drawn into it.

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