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The Eastern Echo Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Print Archive
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Opinion: Grading each of the Lions’ 2021 NFL Draft selections

With the NFL Draft over, here are grades for the seven players the Lions selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The 2021 NFL Draft was held earlier this month in Cleveland, Ohio and featured some of the most highly touted prospects in recent history. One of those prospects was offensive lineman Penei Sewell, who the Lions selected with their seventh overall pick. This pick, along with many others the Lions used in this draft, has put them in a solid position to rebuild over the next two seasons. I’ve assigned letter grades to each pick, and have provided a quick breakdown of each player the Lions selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.

PENEI SEWELL, OL, OREGON - A+ 

If you go back to January of this year and look at any big name mock drafts, you’ll see Sewell going in the top three. This guy has been touted as a generational talent on the offensive line, and one NFL coach said that he thinks Sewell has “the best chance to go to the Hall of Fame” out of any other player in this draft. Sewell is big, strong, and with the lackluster performance from the Lions offensive line in recent years, this pick is a slam dunk.

Sewell fills a massive hole on the Lions roster, and with the resigning of center Frank Ragnow, the offensive line will be phenomenal next season.

LEVI ONWUZURIKE, DT, WASHINGTON - B+

When diagnosing the Lions roster, another need is strong defensive lineman. The Lions have struggled to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and that has been the key to some of their late game defensive breakdowns last season. Onwuzurike was a beast at Washington, and like Sewell, fits a colossal need for Detroit. 

I would’ve maybe liked to see the Lions take JOK out of Notre Dame instead with this pick, but I don’t blame the Lions for going for a defensive lineman here. Onwu is a solid choice and has a pretty high floor.

ALIM MCNEILL, DT, NC STATE - B

This pick is very similar to the one before it. The Lions grabbed another talented defensive lineman to strengthen their pass rushing. McNeill’s stats are super flashy, but he’s 6’2 and 317 pounds, and plays with high intensity. If he increases his speed and works on honing his craft, then the Lions defensive line will be extremely scary in the next few seasons. I give this pick a B only because they already picked a DT and could have addressed other needs with slightly better players.

IFEATU MELIFONWU, CB, SYRACUSE - B+

If you think you’re seeing a pattern with these picks, you’re right. The Lions went all out for defense, and I don’t blame them. The cornerback position is sort of crowded for the Lions, with Okudah, Dunbar, and Oruwariye all already starters, but Melifonwu will provide support in case of injuries and could take Dunbar or Oruwariye’s spots should they slip. A potential one-two punch of Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu at cornerback could be solid in the coming years, but they will both need to heavily develop.

AMON’RA ST. BROWN, WR, USC - A-

With this pick I relieved a heavy sigh, because before taking St. Brown, the Lions had virtually no talent at the wide receiver position. They lost Kenny Golladay in free agency, and their best wide receiver was Quintez Cephus (that is not good at all). With this pick the Lions gave Jeff Goff another weapon besides TJ Hockenson, and took a player that was projected to go in the second round. 

St. Brown is crafty, can leap for passes, and runs routes extremely well but isn’t very fast or athletic. This pick is great because it fits a need, but there were many other talented receivers the Lions could’ve taken in his place, namely Nico Collins out of Michigan. This is still a great pick.

DERRICK BARNES, LB, PURDUE - A-

The Lions traded up for this pick, and for good reason. I feel like a broken record, but the Lions had another MASSIVE need at linebacker. Jamie Collins is their best linebacker, and that’s saying something. Barnes is a talented prospect, and if given enough time and coaching he will be a great addition to this growing defense.

JERMAR JEFFERSON, RB, OREGON STATE - B-

At first I was disgusted with this pick, only because the Lions have too many running backs. But this last week they waived Kerryon Johnson, which puts Jermar at the second or third string behind D’Andre Swift. Jefferson will have to prove himself, but he is fast and could be a great kick returner. If Swift goes down with an injury, we could see Jefferson get a chance next season. 

You’re usually not gonna get huge talent in the seventh round, so I’m not too displeased with this selection. The Lions threw a hail mary and I hope it pays off.

Overall, the Lions had a very nice draft. They addressed a ton of needs and gained a franchise player in Penei Sewell. In the end, I’d give the Lions an A- for the overall draft.