The 2021 NFL Draft season is over. Months of prep, scouting, mock drafts and following rumors have come to an end. As a Lions fan, the NFL Draft is really the only thing I have to look forward to most seasons. The team has just started yet another new rebuild fresh off a failed rebuild under the questionable leadership of former head coach Matt Patricia and former GM Bob Quinn.
The attempt to bring “The Patriot Way” to Motown failed miserably. So here we are. Now former LA Rams director of college scouting Brad Holmes gets his shot as GM, with knee-biter Dan Campbell (formerly the Saints’ assistant head coach/tight ends coach) as his choice as the new head coach. Detroit’s recent history of regime changes gives me pause as a fan, but Campbell has assembled an intriguing coaching staff, and this initial Draft class gives me a glimmer of hope the team will build it right this time. Now that I have had a solid week to process everything and get my emotions under control (I was initially disgusted with this class), let’s do a deep dive on this group and see what talent the Lions added!
Detroit Lions 2021 NFL Draft selections:
R1 (7th overall): OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
R2 (41st): IDL Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
R3 (72nd): IDL Alim McNeill, North Carolina State
R3 (101st): DB Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
R4 (112th): WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
R4 (113th): LB Derrick Barnes, Purdue
R7 (257th): RB Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State
Detroit came into the 2021 NFL Draft with clear needs at receiver, defensive line, and in the secondary. With the board falling the way it did (Chase/Waddle gone), and a trade down never materializing, the Lions went the “best player available” route in the first round. I wanted the Lions to trade down or take the best available receiver, but getting a top 5 prospect in Penei Sewell was a smart, quality addition. Sewell didn’t play in 2020 because he was one of many prospects who opted out of the season due to covid, but his 2019 tape was special and he was considered a top 5 pick for most of the year regardless. While the offensive line wasn’t one of the Lions’ top needs, the addition of Sewell – who is a mauler and will start at right tackle immediately – means Detroit should have one of the top offensive line units in the league. I love this pick – the Lions don’t usually get lucky like this on Draft Day and take advantage of such opportunities.
Detroit chose to shore up the defensive line early by doubling down on the interior in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Even though I initially was a bit upset by the selections (given the other talent on the board at both spots and massive needs elsewhere), both Onwuzurike (2020 opt-out) and McNeill are quality day 2 prospects who will step into major roles right away as rookies. Each brings a non-stop motor, toughness, a quick first step, and scheme flexibility to the interior defensive line; both need work on the finer points and need more development/consistency, but they flash tons of potential on tape.
The Lions then (finally) sought to address major needs in the secondary, wide receiver, and linebacker. Melifonwu had a solid pre-draft run, testing very well to confirm the freaky athleticism he occasionally displayed on tape. He is raw, but has the versatility to play both outside corner and safety in this defense, and gives the team another solid option in the rebuilt secondary; Melifonwu could’ve easily gone earlier than this, so this should be considered a win for Detroit.
This was a very deep wide receiver class, but despite their dire need at the position, the Lions opted to wait until the 4th round to add a receiver – even though the team had lost its top four options at the position from prior seasons including Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. St. Brown struggled when asked to play outside full time this past season, but showed he could be a viable weapon in the short/intermediate passing game – especially from the slot. The team brought in veteran outside receivers Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman during free agency to add depth at the position, and they still have the promising Quintez Cephus, but St. Brown adds a different element and should start immediately from the slot and soak up some targets for Detroit. He could also help out on special teams as a punt/kick returner.
The team traded up for Barnes in the 4th round, and while I heavily questioned the decision to trade a 4th round pick in next season’s loaded class, he adds needed help at linebacker after the team lost Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones in free agency. Barnes is another explosive/versatile piece for this defense and adds depth at a key spot. Jefferson adds big play ability at the running back position and if he makes the team out of training camp, he could be the #3 RB after the team cut ties with former 2nd round pick Kerryon Johnson.
I would have liked to see the team add more at the receiver position earlier than the 4th round, and add a developmental edge rusher, but overall, this was a very solid haul for Detroit. The team stocked up on talent in the trenches early, and it is easily one of the best draft classes in this year’s NFL Draft. Hopefully, the new coaching staff will be able to help these raw defenders grow, and this initial draft class is a good sign of things to come.