The Detroit Lions are in full rebuild mode after trading away longtime franchise cornerstone Matthew Stafford earlier this offseason. Their new head coach Dan Campbell wants to build the nastiest, toughest team in the league. He wants kneecap-biters, he wants guys with a mean streak. Rugged.
That’s the key word to describe the new-look Lions, and that’s a descriptor of every player they selected in this draft class. Not all picks are created equal though, so let’s hand out some grades.
Round 1, Pick 7: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
I think it’s fair to call Sewell, Trevor Lawrence, and Kyle Pitts the “big three” prospects from this draft class. The Detroit Lions were lucky to snag the best lineman in this class after a run of skill-position players to begin the draft.
Sewell is huge, athletic, productive, and still one of the youngest rookies in the class. He and Taylor Decker should be an elite tackle duo, and with the pro-bowler Frank Ragnow at center, the Lions have the pieces to field an excellent offensive line. I expect them to have about one trillion rushing attempts this season, so the lack of talent in the receiver room isn’t going to matter all that much. OLD SCHOOL FOOTBALL, BABY.
Round 2, Pick 9: Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
The Detroit Lions defense was beyond horrific last year. The team allowed 519 points last year, giving them the unfortunate distinction of the most scored-on defense of the past decade. They couldn’t stop the run, they couldn’t stop the pass, and they couldn’t pressure the quarterback. The defense was as soft as it gets.
Levi Onwuzurike is not soft.
How about this for an opening quote from him? “I like f****** people up. I like to get off the line and just put my helmet or my hands on an offensive lineman and f*** up an offensive scheme, pretty much. I like pushing them back 2, 3 yards and just making them feel like s***.”
Onwuzurike is a massive presence who plays with speed and violence from the moment the ball is snapped. He’ll be able to collapse the pocket and put pressure on offenses that rarely felt it playing against this Lions team last season.
Round 3, Pick 8: Adam McNeil, DT, NC State
I like doubling up on interior defensive lineman here. I know the wide receiving core was labeled as the most significant need going into the draft, but I don’t think people realized just how much of a trainwreck the defense was last season.
In 2020, the Detroit Lions allowed more rushing yards after contact than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did total. With Flowers, Onwuzurike, McNeil, Brockers, and Okwara, the new-look defensive line may plug some holes this season.
Round 3, Pick 38: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
Melifonsu has some technical issues. His backpedal is painfully awkward and upright. However, he has size and athleticism that you can’t teach. Also, on-brand with what new head coach Dan Campbell wants, Melifonwu is aggressive at the catch point and a great tackler.
He was the 56th ranked overall player on the “Consensus Big Board”, the annual list that the Athletic’s Arif Hassan puts together that considers the rankings of over 70 draft analysts. The Detroit Lions picked him 101st overall, so they got a great culture fit at a great value. I can’t ask for much more from a draft pick.
Round 4, Pick 112: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
The Detroit Lions finally addressed the wide receiver position with a guy many expected to be selected in the second round. St. Brown was the 69th ranked prospect on the consensus big board. The Lions selected him 112th overall. Amon-Ra is a contested-catch specialist that doesn’t offer much catch due to a lack of speed and play strength.
However, in the fourth round, a wide receiver with his elite ball skills is good value. He’s not too shabby as a route runner, either. St. Brown won’t elevate that wide receiver room by himself, but he’s a solid addition in the 4th round. The Lions have plenty of picks in the next few years to rebuild that area of the team, but at the top of this draft, they were focused on rebuilding the trenches, and I respect that.
Round 4, Pick 8: Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue
Barnes is fast, rugged, and versatile. A little bit of a throwback linebacker asked to blitz more than he was asked to drop back into coverage. The lack of coverage chops in the modern NFL knocks his grade down a bit, but this is still a good pick for a Lions team that couldn’t tackle last year. PFF charted Barnes as one of the surest tackling linebackers in the big 10, and his solid speed should allow him to track down ball carriers all across the formation.
Round 7, Pick 30: Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
The Lions spent their last pick on some insurance at the running back position. Probably a smart move, considering how much it looks like they’ll be running the ball. This was another great value pick for Detroit. Jefferson was ranked 158th overall on the consensus big board, but they snagged him almost 100 picks later at 257. Jefferson is a power back that can sub in for De’andre Swift without the defense being able to catch a break in physicality.
Overall GPA: 3.86