It’s not often that you’re excited about your entire team’s draft…but here we are. The new Lions organization clearly took a hard look at the roster and decided that they needed building blocks and needed to go back to build through the trenches. The offensive line was one of the team’s strengths, despite the holes on the right side, and they decided to go ahead and make it an elite group.
1st Round, 7th Overall: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
With their first pick, they went ahead and got the player that I wanted. For my money, Penei Sewell was the best non-QB in the whole Draft. I love Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts is fun…but Sewell was the best player available after Trevor Lawrence and they got him at #7.
He is just an absolute mauler and he’s not going to be 21 until October 9th. The sky is the limit for him and I truly think he’s one of the safest players in the entire draft. To be able to slide him in at right tackle and then potentially move him to left tackle once Taylor Decker’s career is getting close to the end (or his contract is up) is going to be monumental. There’s nothing better than knowing you’ll be able to protect whichever quarterback you roll out there.
To have this kind of stability at the offensive line position is going to do wonders for the offense. Particularly once they are terrible enough that they pick first overall and draft their future QB. To those of you that wanted Justin Fields…I get it. But it says a lot that the Lions would have taken Trey Lance over Penei Sewell if he had been there at #7…this organization is most certainly not married to Jared Goff if the right prospect catches their eye. And I think that is important for everyone to take note of. They know it is a need but were not willing to reach to fill it and that is important. Justin Fields on this atrocious team with these receivers does nothing for him and just feels like a way to end up disappointed. At least with a wall for an offensive line, the next guy can have a chance at success. There is nothing worse than ruining a promising young quarterback because you cannot protect him.
Pretty cool to see how excited they were. That’s what you want to see out of a draft room. Sure, they could be wrong…but it’s better than the hand clapping and handshake pretend excitement.
2nd Round, 41st Overall: Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
The good part about having a million holes on the roster is that I do not have to sit here and second-guess every single pick. I mean, I could, but when you need as much as they do, you really have to just go best player available and see how everything shakes out. The Lions hit up another opt-out here in Onwuzurike, but I like his game. He’s a versatile mauler and plays with a lot of strength. I think he’s also a bit quicker than he gets credit for.
Versatility is going to be extremely valuable moving forward…I like Michael Brockers and Penisini has shown he can play the nose…but Brockers is not going to play forever and Penisini has a small sample size. This is a bit of an old-school coaching staff and they want to be able to inflict their will on people. They want to build in the trenches and build your football team out from there because if you own the trenches, you own your opponent.
His motor doesn’t quit and I have to believe that is why Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell targeted him.
3rd Round, 72nd Overall: Alim McNeill, DT, NC State
McNeill has some fantastic athleticism for his size and was a former high school running back if you can believe that. Now he’s rolling around near 320 and he is going to be your starting nose tackle at some point in the next 2 years.
The man can move for his size…that is a large human being. If the coaching staff can mold this raw talent/athleticism, I think you’re going to have a very disruptive nose tackle.
938 pounds of beef with the first three picks is for sure a stat you will not see very often. This is basically a total reset at the defensive tackle position this offseason with the Brockers trade and these two picks after Sewell. Clearly this was viewed as a major weakness (it was) and they decided that the defense needed to stop being such a sieve. You’ve added some major space eaters to this group with well above average athleticism and that is key. They’re not adding big guys that cannot move and will not survive in the newer, faster NFL. They’re adding plus athletes that can not only eat space but cover ground and wreak havoc. This is a large process to rebuild a defense and they got two future starters right off the hop here.
3rd Round, 101st Overall: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
If you’re scouting the last name, then you’re probably not going to like this pick. His brother Obi was a supreme athlete but never figured it out at the safety position. Ifeatu is a similar athlete to his brother, though not as gifted, and seems like a natural fit at cornerback.
As a player his anticipation tends to be lacking, which he tries to make up for with his athleticism. His technique needs work, but he’s certainly more of the new-age corner with his size/speed combination. If he can work on his anticipation, I think he can develop into a starting cornerback alongside Jeff Okudah.
The fact that he is a willing tackler is also a huge plus for me. The worst thing you can do is draft a cornerback that never tackled or practically refused to tackle in college and hope that you can teach that into him.
4th Round, 112th Overall: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
I thought this was a fantastic value pick and there are going to be a lot of comparisons to Robert Woods. Not just because of the regime he was drafted by or because of the college he attended, but because of his actual play style.
He doesn’t have elite speed or physical traits but he’s a good route runner and he plays hard. He’s a willing blocker and can separate enough to get open and make contested catches. He’s not going to be a franchise WR, but I think he can be a strong WR2 and should be starting in the slot next year right away.
4th Round, 113th Overall: Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue
I was extremely surprised to see the Lions trade up but the fact they gave themselves back-to-back picks with the moves meant they coveted Brown. The traded their 5th and a future 4th for this pick and a 7th rounder. Some people think them trading up was a mistake because they should be acquiring as many picks as possible to have as many bites at the apple as possible. I think the fact they’re going to get a 3rd Round compensatory pick next year for Kenny Golladay made them more willing to be bold with this move.
One thing is for certain is that they need to overhaul all of their linebackers and Barnes was a good new age player to get into the fray.
He does not have ideal size but he has the wheels to make up for it. He also plays extremely hard, a common thing amongst every single draft pick the Lions had. He trusts his vision and his highlight reel is a lot of him attacking downhill and being very physical at the point of attack.
Running the base 3-4 defense means to me that Barnes is most likely going to shift inside. He has versatility and could be a situational rusher on the EDGE, but given their lack of depth in the interior, I have to believe he will start off as a MIKE backer. I’m a fan of his and excited to see how early he contributes.
7th Round, 257th Overall: Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
I have to say that I was slightly surprised they went with a running back with their last pick, especially since you’re throwing darts at this point in the draft. With De’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams and Kerryon Johnson, it did not seem like a 4th running back was the most pressing need. But then a few days after the draft they waived Kerryon Johnson and it became clear that they think Jefferson is prime to be the 3rd running back on the depth chart.
Jefferson was the first player that the Lions picked that was not a great athlete, but they clearly like his vision and his one-cut running style that fits exactly what Anthony Lynn wants on offense.
As you can see from what Campbell said, they’re very excited about him and had no concerns about his testing times.
His college production was pretty damn good, even though he was banged up a little bit each of the last two seasons. I like his running style and think he is worth a flyer at this point (particularly since they moved on from Kerryon Johnson). The way I see it, they’re going to have every draft pick they made make the roster, which is a welcome change from what Bob Quinn accomplished the past few seasons. The only thing that really surprised me from Brad Holmes’ first draft is there were not any small school players drafted. The Rams seemed to always take a few guys from smaller schools and this was all Power 5 conference players (with a strong PAC-12 flavor).
Looking at the UDFAs, the Lions brought in 13 guys.
- WR Jonathan Adams – Arkansas State
- S D’Angelo Amos – Virginia
- LB Tavante Beckett – Marshall
- RB Rakeem Boyd – Arkansas
- TE Jake Hausmann – Ohio State
- C Drake Jackson – Kentucky
- CB Jerry Jacobs – Arkansas
- G Tommy Kraemer – Notre Dame
- WR Javon McKinley – Notre Dame
- RB Dedrick Mills – Nebraska
- CB AJ Parker – Kansas State
- WR Sage Surratt – Wake Forest
- TE Brock Wright – Notre Dame
Looking at this group, I’m not sure how many will make the roster, but Javon McKinley was given a $100,000 guarantee so I think it is safe to say he will be in their plans or at least make the practice squad. I think Jonathan Adams and Sage Surratt also have a strong chance to make the roster. Adams has some drop issues but he does a great job attacking/high-pointing the football and can go up and get anything. Surratt’s testing times might ultimately hold him back, but he was productive in college and I think the opt-out hurt his stock more than most with the subpar testing. I think Tommy Kraemer will have a chance to make the roster just because of the lack of depth at guard, but ultimately it is hard to expect much out of this group. It is quite interesting how many Notre Dame UDFAs the Lions brought in, I’m curious if there is any sort of staff connection there.
All in all, I’m pleased with what the Lions did. They attacked weaknesses (and there are many) and they went ahead and fortified the offensive line for the forseeable future. They now have 4 rock solid starters and that is far more than most teams. Building from the trenches and out is a smart way to go about things and a good way to lay the foundation moving forward. I still have low expectations for this team next year, I’m thinking 3-4 wins at the absolute max. But if they keep drafting like this, it gives me hope that they can drag this team back into relevance. We can check back in 3 years from now and see if this class is as good as I hope it is.
If you subscribe to the Athletic, I highly recommend these reads for more info on the Lions draft class.