The Detroit Lions are coming off of a 5-11 season which resulted in the firing of head coach Matt Patricia. They also dealt longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams this offseason, so it's safe to say the Lions are entering a rebuild. First-year head coach Dan Campbell has been tasked with this rebuild, and he and general manager Brad Holmes put together a solid class in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Detroit has numerous holes to fill on its roster, but the Lions opted to take linemen with each of their first three picks. They also took four defensive players with their seven picks. CBS Sports' Pete Prisco was a fan of this, as he gave the Lions a "B+" in his final draft grades. The Lions have a long way to go when it comes to being competitive again, but they started off this rebuild on the right foot.
Below, we are going to discuss one thing the Lions didn't do in the 2021 NFL Draft that they probably should have, and also break down one thing they definitely got right.
Double dip at wide receiver
The Lions drafted Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round, which was pretty solid value. He's a slot receiver who is also great at tracking the ball down the field and should make an immediate impact at this position, but what is his potential? Much like last year, this class of wide receivers appears to be deep, as there were a total of 36 receivers drafted last weekend. Detroit should have double-dipped.
For one, wide receiver is a clear need for the Lions -- and an important one at that. Detroit replaced Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones with Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams in free agency, which is a downgrade, and they don't have much depth at the position either. T.J. Hockenson and D'Andre Swift are intriguing weapons, but the attention of the defense will be on them without the consistent threat of an outside weapon. Plus, Stafford being traded hurts your wide receiving corps as well, which brings me to my second point.
I wonder what the front office's lean is when it comes to Jared Goff. Either way, I think they know they aren't Super Bowl bound in 2021, but one objective this season is to get a read on Goff. Does he have franchise quarterback potential? Is he someone you think can aid in this rebuild? It's going to be difficult for him to make his case without a solid wide receiving corps. Drafting another receiver could have helped.
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Still, Detroit added kneecap biters
I apologize, but I will continue to reference "kneecap biting" when it comes to Campbell for the rest of the year -- and maybe longer. One, I think it's pretty funny and two, I actually think it's a solid line. I would want to play for a coach who operates with this kind of mentality. When I consider prospective kneecap biters, I'm imagining big linemen who set the tone at the line of scrimmage, and who are as versatile and skilled as they are powerful. The Lions definitely got that in Penei Sewell.
In 2019, Sewell became the first Oregon player to win the Outland Trophy, which is awarded each year to the best lineman in the country. According to Oregon's official website, he finished his sophomore campaign as the top-graded offensive lineman in PFF history (since 2014), and led the nation with a PFF run-blocking grade of 95.3 while finishing third in pass-blocking with a grade of 91.1. The Ducks claim he allowed just one sack over 1,376 snaps in two years! Sewell will play anywhere, which is good for the Lions.
"I believe that I have the attributes and the ability to really come in and be a plug-and-play guy," Sewell told CBS Sports last month. "Just come in and play wherever, whether it's left tackle, right tackle, guard or center. I'm willing to do what it takes to help the team win, and I'm willing to put my pride to the side of where I think I should play for the team's success. As for me, yes, believing in yourself in a certain position is a huge part of playing in the NFL. But I really just want to win, and whatever that looks like I'm doing whatever it takes. Yes, I believe I can come in and play left tackle for a long time, have a good career. But again, I'm willing to play wherever on the line."
Campbell didn't just stop there, as he then drafted two defensive linemen in Levi Onwuzurike out of Washington and Alim McNeill out of N.C. State. Onwuzurike was a First Team All-Pac-12 player who opted out last season. In 2019, he recorded 45 total tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks. He has an explosive first step inside and will bowl you over if you're not prepared to receive him. The film also shows he's good at leveraging his body if he beats you with his first step, and he plays with tenacity. McNeill was also a First Team All Conference player, but he actually suited up last season. He's a big boy who can help in run support right away.
Controlling the line of scrimmage is important in the game of football, and that's clearly what the Lions want to do in 2021. I'm not sure if that's going to translate into W's, but it is definitely a first step in a rebuild.