In what was another exciting close on signing day for the USC Trojans, one of the numerous highly touted recruits to sign with USC was five-star wide receiver Joseph Lewis. A product of local Hawkins High School, Lewis was long considered a USC lean. Thankfully for the Trojans, Tee Martin and the rest of the USC offensive recruiting staff closed the deal and received the signature of a player who could help replace the dynamic JuJu Smith-Schuster in the coming seasons.
Much like the aforementioned star wide out who has since declared for the NFL draft, Lewis is a big, physical wide receiver. Listed at 6’1.5” 204 lbs., Lewis has a very similar body type to Smith-Schuster that he uses to his advantage on the outside. Lewis is not a burner for his position—his 40 time is around 4.65—but his game speed is much faster than the numbers would indicate (another similarity to JuJu). Whether it be his size, speed, or physicality, Lewis is built in a very similar mold to USC’s most recent star receiver and hopefully he can have a similar impact to the former All-American.
Rated as a five-star according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Lewis was certainly a highly-touted prospect, but one that slid down the rankings late in the cycle. The biggest concern with Lewis is his lack of game-changing speed. This is not everything as various wide receivers have shown, but Lewis is unlikely to ever be a player who frightens opposing defenses with his ability to get behind the secondary. Where Lewis can make a huge impact for the Trojans though is as a possession receiver in the middle of the field who can use his size to dominate smaller cornerbacks.
Going forward, Lewis is lucky to be at USC as he will have plenty of JuJu game tape to study. The two are very similar in terms of their makeup and there is no reason why Lewis cannot have a college career comparable to that of USC’s most recent All-American wide receiver. However, Lewis’ lack of elite speed could create problems for him especially when facing other elite secondaries.
Smith-Schuster was fantastic for the Trojans, but there were times where he disappeared in games. Some of this can be attributed to injuries especially in 2016, but JuJu’s inability to beat defenders with quickness also played a role. Lewis needs to take it upon himself to watch tape of number 9 in cardinal and gold and find where he can improve and the areas in which Smith-Schuster struggled. Without elite athleticism, Lewis will need to maximize how he uses his body to box out cornerbacks and impact the game in the intermediate routes. JuJu excelled in these areas as a Trojan and Lewis will need to do the same if he wants to be successful for SC.
To put it simply, savviness and toughness will be imperative for Lewis to develop. He may not have the bulldog mentality of Smith-Schuster, but he needs to be unafraid to make tough catches over the middle of the field. He showed a propensity to excel in this area throughout his high school career, but it must continue if he is to fulfill his potential as a Trojan.
On a less glamorous note, Lewis’ size and strength can also be useful as a blocker on the outside in running and bubble screen situations. Lane Kiffin is no longer around to call his infamous bubble screens that infuriated just about every USC football fan, but blocking is still an important part of being a wide receiver. Lewis should be able to make a mark in this area with his size and strength. There were various instances in his tape where Lewis already illustrated the mindset to be a good blocker, but it is important that this willingness and skill translates to the college game.
Going forward, Lewis may not have the immediate impact Smith-Schuster had as a freshman, but by the time he is an upperclassman, he could be a menace on the outside. Lewis’ game takes experience and repetitions to perfect as his football intelligence needs to be at a similar level to his pure physical ability. Unfortunately, this can only be developed with time as he needs to learn how to pick apart complex coverages he has not seen before. Especially considering that USC already has a deep stable of highly touted wide receivers waiting their turn to challenge for a starting spot, Lewis may not see much playing time as a freshman.
In all likelihood, Lewis will be spending his first season as a redshirt. Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers are off to the NFL, but SC still has Michael Pittman, Jalen Greene, Tyler Vaughns, and Josh Imatorbhebhe ready to fill their shoes on the outside. Each of these players either have college experience or were also highly-touted high school recruits, so Lewis’ competition for playing time will be stiff. Unless the Hawkins product can maximize his size, savviness, and toughness early in his career, he will probably be spending his freshman season on the scout team.
Over the past few years, USC has been blessed with a number of talented wide receivers from Robert Woods to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Lewis may not have the immediate impact as a freshman that these players had, but that should not prevent him from becoming an important player for the Trojans. 200 pound high school wide receivers with his physicality are hard to come by, and Tee Martin’s experience with a similar player in Smith-Schuster should aid Lewis’ development. Even if Lewis is unable to be an instant-impact recruit, he is in an excellent situation to succeed over the long-term and he should be able to nail down a starting place as an upperclassman.