FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tommylee Lewis was barely recruited out of high school. And Sean Payton admitted that Lewis was nowhere near the New Orleans Saints’ radar coming out of Northern Illinois.
“When I say not on the radar, I mean not on the radar, like, at all,” Payton stressed.
But now the dynamic 5-foot-7, 168-pound receiver looks poised to crack the Saints’ 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie.
And he has Bill Parcells to thank.
“This was his guy,” Payton said of Parcells, who has become a mentor to both Payton and Lewis. “We signed him right after the draft. And, shoot, I’m glad we did.”
Lewis and Parcells developed their close relationship because Parcells lives near Lewis’ hometown in the Palm Beach, Florida area and is friends with his high school coach.
It’s ironic that Parcells is the one that fell in love with him, though, because Parcells has always been a guy who valued size and speed above all else. And Lewis didn’t test off the charts in either area leading up to the draft.
“It came with a caveat,” Payton said of Parcells’ recommendation. “He’s definitely a size-speed guy. So the first thing he says is, ‘Look, you’re gonna hate his height.’
“But he goes, ‘This guy’s got a little something to him.’ And he’d just been around him enough to see that he’s pretty tough. … Obviously I trust Bill quite a bit and value so many different things. So when he has a guy like that you’re talking about signing as a free agent, I’m like, ‘Yeah.’”
“It’s crazy how God works, because when you’re younger, they say you never know who’s watching you,” said Lewis, who still texts regularly with Parcells – and joked that Parcells likes to do his texting early, like 4 a.m.
“That’s definitely a lot, for a guy like that to vouch for you, put his name on the line like that for you,” Lewis said. “For your part, you don’t want to let him down. You just want to hold up your end of the bargain.”
So far, so good. Lewis has been lighting up the Saints’ practice field on a daily basis on both passing plays and run plays. He could also compete for a job as a kick returner.
Payton has compared Lewis to longtime former NFL receiver David Patten and to Saints receiver Willie Snead, who went undrafted before breaking out during New Orleans’ training camp last summer.
Lewis got only one other offer after the draft – from the Saints’ rival Atlanta Falcons. Otherwise, he was prepared to head to the Canadian Football League.
Lewis fell off of the NFL radar because of injuries in college. His original senior season was wiped out by an unspecified lower-body injury in 2014. Then his redshirt senior year was stalled by ankle and knee injuries.
Before that, though, Lewis was lighting up the field at Northern Illinois, as well. He had 1,405 all-purpose yards in 2013 and scored touchdowns via run, pass, catch and kickoff return during his career.
“Listen, he plays hard. He’s one of those guys you watch in practice, and he practices like that’s his last practice to make an impression each day,” Payton said. “And so if you guys can recall camp last year and watching Willie Snead, he just kept showing up each day in different phases, whether it was as a gunner or as a receiver. And that sense of urgency can really help a player, especially a free agent.”