- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Taylor Lewan had every reason in the world to leave Michigan.
The 6-foot-7, 302-pound junior left tackle had seemingly accomplished just about everything he could from an individual standpoint. He was named the 2012 Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and was a first-team All-American. He more than held his own against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney -- the most fearsome defensive end who's not currently collecting paychecks -- in the Outback Bowl.
Lewan's draft stock doesn't have a lot of room to grow. Scouts Inc. rated him as the No. 13 overall prospect for the 2013 draft and the No. 2 offensive tackle. Mel Kiper Jr. also had Lewan at No. 13 on his latest Big Board. Lewan would likely have battled Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel to see who was the first offensive lineman taken in April.
Instead, Lewan stunned everyone on Wednesday night by announcing he would come back to campus. The pull of playing one more year for the Wolverines turned out to be stronger for him than cashing in right now.
And Michigan couldn't be happier about that.
Lewan already spent this past season as the anchor of a Michigan offensive line that did not live up to expectations at the other spots. He'll now carry even more weight on his shoulders as the undisputed leader of what could be a very young line.
Only one other starter -- right tackle Michael Schofield -- will return next season. Head coach Brady Hoke has made it a priority to recruit offensive linemen who fit his system more than previous coach Rich Rodriguez's style and to build depth at a position that was thin upon his arrival two years ago. Now he'll get a chance to at least bring his young tackles along more slowly. Redshirt freshmen Ben Braden (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and Erik Magnuson (6-6, 285) would likely have been thrust into one of the starting tackle spots had Lewan left. They instead will either have to beat out Schofield, move to guard or simply get more seasoning as backups.
The line will still be inexperienced at the inside spots and must build cohesion this offseason. Question marks at that position were a main reason why we only placed Michigan fifth in our early 2013 Big Ten power rankings. Of course, at the time we figured Lewan was gone.
So, too, did just about everybody else. Lewan said even his father thought he'd skip his senior year. But Lewan had a lengthy conversation with former Wolverine star Jake Long about staying in school. Long also spurned the NFL after his junior year ended up as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008.
Lewan said he was told by the NFL draft advisory board that he would have been a high first-round pick. He could certainly parlay a big senior year into an even higher selection, but you have to wonder if the difference in money between maybe 5-to-10 slots in the first round versus the potential to get hurt next season is a gamble worth taking. Lewan said he'd definitely take out an insurance policy. We also saw from Montee Ball's season that sometimes things don't go smoothly when you return after a star-studded junior year.
But Lewan is also a fun-loving guy, one who famously rode a tandem bicycle around campus last year. Though he's matured greatly since his freshman year, sticking around college one more year and trying to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten title are perfectly reasonable desires, even if they don't necessarily make for the wisest business decision.
Quarterback Devin Gardner certainly won't complain, as he'll have the best blindside protector in college football guarding him next year. You couldn't blame Gardner for roaring his approval of Lewan's decision right now, along with Maize and Blue fans everywhere.