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Lions draft grade. An analysis of their 2021 draft class

My biggest question going into the draft for the Lions wasn’t necessarily what are they going to do at 7, would it be an offensive lineman or receiver? It wasn’t why would the Lions willing take on Jared Goff’s contract either, truth be told, for two first rounders I would have done the same. Even if it meant downgrading at the position from Matt Stafford. In all honesty, what has he really accomplished in his time with Detroit? In 11 seasons, he’s made 1 Pro Bowl, he has a losing record as a QB, and made the playoffs just twice. I understand it goes deeper than just Stafford, but my point is that he has been a bit overrated in his career.

No, my biggest question is what in the world were they thinking bringing in Dan Campbell as their Head Coach. He hasn’t been in this role since replacing Joe Philbin Week 4 of 2015, where he won only won 5 of 12 contests, including going 3-7 over his last 10 games. He isn’t a strategist and he’s never had to construct a roster before. The only value that he seems to bring to the table is that he’s good for a fiery speech every now and then, basically he’s a player’s coach. We’ve seen those before, most notably Rex Ryan, but they always seem to flame out. Why not go after Eric Bieniemy from the Chiefs? He’s an offensive mastermind that, if anyone could, drum up whatever game Jared Goff has left.

Now, to the actual roster, the Lions have holes, but talent to work around too. The wide receiving group is horrible, led by two players (Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman) who have never lived up to their potential. The right side of the offensive line needs addressing,  the secondary is horrendous, and the linebacking corps is underwhelming.

There are bright spots though, the Lions have are poised to be able to win in the trenches, sitting at the top of each round, they could easily address the offensive line and turn it into a strength. D’Andre Swift proved to a solid selection after amassing 8 TDs in his rookie campaign, becoming the first real threat the Lions have had at running-back in a long, long time. TJ Hockenson is physical tight end that is as effective in the run game as a blocker as he is in the pass game as a receiver, he’ll be a great option off of play-action for Goff. The defensive line is stout, adding Michael Brockers was a steal in my opinion, giving Detroit what they thought they had in 2019, a dominate group. Let’s get started with our Lions draft grade analysis.

Oregon OT Penei Sewell (Round 1, Pick 7)

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This was an absolute steal and the Lions’ front office knew it. Sewell was the top prospect in one of the best groups to come out in a long time, he brings physicality and tenacity to a team that has been searching for an identity. The Lions are tied to Jared Goff for the next two seasons at minimum, so it would be wise to provide him with the same structure that led to his best season as a pro. A dominate offensive line, a strong running game, and a play-action bootleg attack that offers easy throws/reads.

With Sewell, the Lions now have 80% of their offensive line anchored and have the ability to play that type of power football game that Dan Campbell loves. Sewell is the type of foundation piece that smart teams invest in when looking to rebuild a roster, sure a potential franchise QB is just waiting there in Justin Fields or Mac Jones. However, you didn’t just take on Jared Goff’s salary NOT TO try him out and you’re certainly not going to throw a rookie QB out there with no receivers and half an offensive line. The Lions aren’t contending any time soon and it’s likely that Goff will be nothing more than he was in LA, however, they can use this time to build a strong roster around their future franchise QB. Sewell was a first step in the right direction. Really great pick for our Lions draft grade.

Washington IDL Levi Onwuzurike (Round 2, Pick 41)

I don’t know what’s more difficult, the pronunciation of his name or understanding why the Lions took him here. He wasn’t an overly productive player at Washington (23 negative plays – 16 TFLs, 7 sacks) over 34 games. Which is a bit concerning because at 288 pounds, he should have been able to penetrate more on the interior. He should slide in as a Day-1 starter next to Michael Brockers, or at least challenge for it, but I think he’s going to find it difficult making the jump from Pac-12 competition to professional linemen. Especially given his size, his fit might end up being more of edge player, which is deep with Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Da’Shawn Hand, and Julian Okwara.

I thought this would have been a perfect spot for the Lions to address their lack of playmakers at receiver. Purdue’s Rondale Moore would have been a great gamble at this spot, they just brought in two guys who work primarily on the outside. Moore would have been perfect as someone that Goff can dump off to quickly and let make a play for him.

I would have also liked to see the Lions address the secondary at this spot too, 2020 3rd overall pick Jeff Okudah was roughed up a bit in his rookie season. A lot of that could have been attributed to the fact that he didn’t have an off-season to get acclimated to the scheme. However, it’s clear that the group needs as much help as it can get. With corners Kelvin Joseph and Asante Samuel Jr still hanging there, I thought it was a mistake not to address that spot. Could be a good player for them, but not a good pick for our Lions draft grade.

North Carolina State IDL Alim McNeill (Round 3, Pick 71)

Selecting Onwuzurike with the 41st selection makes even less sense now, especially given the fact that McNeill is literally the anthesis of him. McNeill has size (6’2, 320) and he was productive (27.5 negative plays in 3 years as a starter). This selection I could see developing into a solid rotational player or low-end starter. However, with more needs to address than just interior defensive line, it left me scratching to my head as to what Detroit was thinking.

Why not Ben Cleveland at this spot either? There is still a hole at right guard, and putting the mountain man next to Penei Sewell would have give the Lions a ridiculous power combo to run behind. The Lions are clearly emphasizing the offensive/defensive lines, why not target a starting-caliber player in Cleveland? McNeil might turn into a good player in the long-run, but I think Detroit is going to regret it in the long-run.

Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (Round 3, Pick 101)

It was smart to address the secondary if you’re Detroit, they missed out on some better player because they went after the second tier of interior defensive linemen, but Melifonwu was a good player for Syracuse. He’s got size (6’2, 210) and he was productive (3 interceptions, 13 pass deflections) in his two years as a starter. However, unless he gravely exceeds expectations, he’s destined to be a 3rd corner. Had they addressed a spot other than interior defensive line with their previous two picks, I wouldn’t have been as down on this selection, but they did. So, instead of addressing a spot of need with every selection, they had to settle for lesser prospects.

Detroit lost the ability to really make this a solid initial draft for the rebuild, missing playmakers in the 2nd round and a potential dynamic duo on the right side of their line in the 3rd round. The good news for them is that they have multiple 1st rounders in 2022 and 2023, so they have plenty of ammo to address those needs in the future. Also having Penei Sewell fall to them past the Dolphins at 6 was a huge surprise and I think going to set up this franchise for years to come. A mediocre Lions draft grade for a mediocre draft haul.

Lions Draft Grade: C+

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