Detroit Lions Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington – Round 2
New Lions general manager Brad Holmes had a phenomenal offseason that has Detroit poised to build a very talented team. He acquired two first-round picks and a young starting quarterback for Matthew Stafford. Holmes also made wise signings in free agency before putting together an excellent first draft. He wisely invested in the offensive and defensive lines to build up the Lions’ talent in the trenches. Onwuzurike was a very good second-round pick because he could have gone late in the first round and other teams would not have seen that as a reach. Onwuzurike was an effective player for Washington and has upside to improve as a pro.

In the pass rush, Onwuzurike is more disruptive than productive. He is quick to fire his gap thanks to his excellent burst off the ball, and he gets into offensive linemen faster than they expect. Onwuzurike uses his speed to push upfield and create some interior pressure. However, he can get tied up after his initial burst, and as a result, Onwuzurike never produced many sacks. He needs to improve his pass-rushing moves to shed those second-effort blocks and get home more often. If Onwuzurike maintains his current level of play or just has marginal improvement, he might be a 3-5 sacks-per-year defender who is more of a contributor in the pass rush rather than a difference-maker. Some team sources, however, feel Onwuzurike can be coached up on techniques to finish plays better. If that works out, he could be a real boom pick for Detroit because he has the quickness to be a speed rusher.

Onwuzurike is a tough run defender who shows some developed strength to stack his blocker at the line of scrimmage. He plays with nice pad level and leverage to not get pushed backward while keeping gap integrity. With strong hands and some power in his upper body, he is able to fight off blockers and does a nice job of getting in on tackles outside of his gap. Onwuzurike has a good motor and gives a real effort to run to the ball downfield to get in on tackles.

The Lions were a great landing spot for Onwuzurike, as he can play three-technique next to nose tackle Michael Brockers. With quality edge rushers in Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara, Onwuzurike should see single-block opportunities. His skill set and upside could make him a solid starter early in his career for Detroit.

2020: D’Andre Swift, RB
2019: Austin Bryant, DE
2018: Frank Ragnow, C
2017: Jalen Tabor, CB
2016: Taylor Decker, OT
2015: Laken Tomlinson, G
2014: Travis Swanson, C
2013: Darius Slay, CB

Most Likely To Bust

Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse – Round 3
Detroit was a great landing spot for Melifonwu because he will have the luxury of time to develop behind Amani Oruwriye, Jeff Okudah and Quinton Dunbar. It also looks like defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn plans to play a lot of press-man coverage, which is a good fit for hiding Melifonwu’s weaknesses. However of the Lions early-round picks, he looks like the riskiest.

Melifonwu (6-2, 205) has excellent size, length and straight-line speed. But he is raw, needs development with his technique, and lacks instincts. There also were injury issues in 2018 and 2019, and his route recognition needs improvement. Off-the-field issues led to his older brother Obi Melifonwu being a second-round bust for the Raiders. Hopefully, Ifeatu Melifonwu learned from his brother’s experience and ends up playing up to his great skill set. Of the Lions’ selections from the first two days of the 2021 NFL Draft, Melifonwu looks like the one with the most bust potential.

2020: Jonah Jackson, G
2019: Will Harris, S
2018: Tracy Walker, S
2017: Michael Roberts, TE
2016: A’Shawn Robinson, DT
2015: Alex Carter, CB
2014: Eric Ebron, TE
2013: Ezekiel Ansah, DE

Potential Boom Pick

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon – Round 1
Detroit really had some great fortune to have Sewell make it to the seventh-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was one of the top-four elite players in the draft, falling behind only Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Pitts, and Sewell was about even Ja’Marr Chase. Sewell has franchise left tackle and landed in a great spot with the Lions, where he can form a dynamic tackle tandem with Taylor Decker.

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Sewell has the skill set to be an elite pass protector on the edge. He is a good athlete with real quickness. Sewell pops out of his stance, gets his hands into the chest of defenders, and has quick feet to play the typewriter and cut off the edge from speed rushers. He has enough strength and quality hands to sustain blocks while being able to neutralize second efforts. His agility, footwork and quickness make him a smooth mover in space. On screens, kick out blocks, and zone runs, Sewell constantly shows that he is natural in space.

As a run blocker, Sewell is not overpowering where he bulls defenders off the ball, but he scraps with attitude and is effective. Sewell uses his size and strength to manipulate and turn defenders to tie them up and keep them from getting in on tackles. He is dangerous firing to the second level, where he will get nasty, overwhelming linebackers or defensive backs with violence. It would help Sewell to continue to add more functional strength for battling NFL defensive linemen, but he could function in a power-man- or zone-blocking scheme.

The Lions’ draft room erupted in joy when Sewell made it to their pick, and it makes sense as he will be a plug-and-play upgrade at right tackle. With Decker and Sewell, quarterback Jared Goff will have excellent edge blockers, and Sewell will be an asset in opening holes for D’Andre Swift in the ground game. While Sewell will start at right tackle, he could move to left tackle if Decker gets injured or in a year or two if Decker doesn’t play up to his contract. Sewell definitely has boom-pick potential to be one of the better tackles in the NFL, and he was a fabulous first pick for head coach Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell.

2020: Jeff Okudah, CB
2019: T.J. Hockenson, TE
2018: Kerryon Johnson, RB
2017: Jarrad Davis, LB
2016: Graham Glasgow, C
2015: Ameer Abdullah, RB
2014: Kyle Van Noy, LB
2013: Larry Warford, G

Future Depth Player

Alim McNeill, DT, N.C. State – Round 3
Even though they stole veteran Michael Brockers in a trade with the Rams, the Lions took defensive tackles with back-to-back picks on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Brockers and Levi Onwuzurike are the starters, but McNeill could be a nice rotational tackle to go with them. He has solid strength, quickness and athleticism with upside to grow. If Brockers is let go in a year or two, McNeil could ascend to being the starting nose tackle, but he at least looks like a good backup tackle to rotate into the game with the ability to produce quality snaps for Detroit.

2020: Julian Okwara, OLB
2019: Amani Oruwariye, CB
2018: Da’Shawn Hand, DE
2017: Brad Kaaya, QB
2016: Miles Killebrew, S
2015: Quandre Diggs, CB
2014: Larry Webster, DE
2013: Devin Taylor, DE

Walt’s 2021 NFL Draft Grades:

7. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon – A+ Grade
I imagine the Lions are shocked that Penei Sewell made it past both the Bengals and Dolphins. This is a no-brainer selection. It could be argued that Sewell was the best player not named Trevor Lawrence in this class. Detroit has a huge hole at tackle, which Sewell will fill very nicely. Detroit’s next quarterback – probably someone from next year’s draft – go here for my 2022 NFL Mock Draft – will be thrilled to have Sewell blocking for him.

41. Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington – B Grade
The Lions maintained one of the worst run defenses in the NFL last year, so it’s not a surprise to see them address that with this pick. I was never really a fan of putting Levi Onwuzurike in the first round because of his pass-rushing limitations, but he makes sense near the middle of the second round. This is a solid pick.

72. Alim McNeill, DT, N.C. State – C- Grade
I get one defensive tackle to help stop the run, but two? That makes less sense. I never had Alim McNeill in the second day of my mock draft. In my final update, he was chosen at the end of the fourth round, so this is a slight reach.

101. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse – B Grade
This is a much better pick than Dallas’ selection of Nahshon Wright. Like Wright, Ifeatu Melifonwu is a tall cornerback, but he’s actually a good player. He’ll be a liability in run support, but he could end up being a solid starter across from Jeff Okudah.

112. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC – B Grade
Amon-Ra St. Brown was productive at USC, and he obviously helps fill a huge need for the Lions, who have nothing at receiver. However, I had St. Brown a bit later on Day 3, so I’m not wild about this value. Still, this is a fine selection.

113. Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue – F Grade
The Lions traded up a whole round for a linebacker I had in the seventh round of my final mock draft. Yeah, not good. There were higher-rated linebackers available like Jabril Cox and Dylan Moses, so I don’t understand why the Lions were so impatient.

257. Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State – B Grade
It’s going to be difficult for Jermar Jefferson to make the roster, given that the Lions have D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams and Kerryon Johnson. I imagine this is just injury insurance, which is fine, given that Jefferson was pegged as a seventh-round prospect.

2021 NFL Draft Team Grade: C. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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