Sun, 13 Jun 2021

TWENTYMAN: 5 takeaways from 2021 NFL Draft

Detroit Lions
06 May 2021, 20:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

The Detroit Lions added seven rookies to their roster over draft weekend.

They came away with four players on defense and three on offense with varying ranges of skill sets, position versatility and physical traits. Here are some of my takeaways from the Lions' draft:

1. Detroit got big and nasty upfront on both sides of the ball

Lions general manager Brad Holmes didn't go into the draft with the intension of focusing on Detroit's offensive and defensive lines with his first three picks. He said that's just how the board fell.

Starting with first-round pick offensive tackle Penei Sewell, and opening Day 2 with the selections of defensive tackles Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill, Holmes not only filled two needs, but arguably got the draft's best offensive and defensive tackle in Sewell and Onwuzurike. McNeill has a ton of upside.

Sewell plays the game with "violent intentions," and that certainly shows up on tape. He'll slot into the competition for the right tackle spot and solidify Detroit's offensive front.

The Lions recorded just four sacks from interior defenders last year. Onwuzurike and McNeill are not only stout inside, but they offer some pass-rushing prowess as well.

All three players are big, physical, play with an edge and are upgrades from an athletic standpoint at their position group.

2. Lions trust Jared Goff

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones were on the board at No. 7 for the Lions had Holmes chosen to take a quarterback, but he opted for the best tackle in the draft in Sewell.

In fact, Holmes passed on quarterback at every turn of the draft, which shows he's confident in Goff's ability to lead this football team not only in 2021, but moving forward as well. Goff, 26, has four years left on his contract.

Goff is one of three active players in the NFL (Tom Brady & Matt Ryan) to have thrown for at least 3,800 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of the last four seasons. He comes to Detroit with a bit of a chip on his shoulder following the trade that sent Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles and Goff and draft picks back to Detroit.

"It takes the right pieces to win, but you can turn it around in one season," Goff said. "I know it won't happen in a week. It won't happen in a month. But it can happen very quickly if you get the right people and do it the right way."

Greg Cosell analyzes Lions' 2021 draft class TWENTYMAN: A closer look at the Lions' undrafted rookie free agents O'HARA: What we learned from the 2021 NFL Draft

3. Versatility was a key component to this draft

Sewell, Onwuzurike and McNeill are all big, but they can run and change direction very well for their size. Onwuzurike and McNeill have experience playing the nose (zero technique) but can also play the three-technique and move around the line a bit.

Cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu is big and physical, but he's also got a quick twitch on tape and good change of direction to play in space.

Linebacker Derrick Barnes began his career at Purdue as an edge rusher and transitioned to the MIKE linebacker role last year. He'll fit some of the 3-4 base looks we'll see from new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's scheme this year.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown might be the strongest receiver in the class. He's tough, possesses strong hands and played both inside and outside at USC, which gives offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn options on where to line him up.

Overall, it's a group that can do a lot of different things with position versatility.

4. Detroit's offensive line has a chance to be really good

There's tremendous value in getting the top offensive tackle in the draft at No. 7. Quarterbacks, pass rushers and tackles usually dominate the top of the draft, and for Sewell to fall to Homes at No. 7 worked out perfectly for the Lions.

Holmes said Sewell will compete for the right tackle spot. Assuming he wins the starting job, the Lions are rock solid at four spots - left tackle (Taylor Decker), left guard (Jonah Jackson), center (Frank Ragnow) and now right tackle.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai had an up-and-down first season in Detroit after signing as a free agent last offseason, but a lot of that can be traced back to the injuries he dealt with, starting with the foot injury suffered the last week of training camp that prevented him from playing early in the year and lingered throughout the course of the season. He's starting the year at guard, and the expectation is for him to play well there if he can stay healthy.

If Vaitai wins the starting spot and plays well, the Lions are young, big, physical and have depth upfront with guys like Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson and Logan Stenberg adding depth.

5. We saw the passionate side of Holmes

The Lions had a small cluster of players they were considering with the No. 7 pick, and also fielded some calls both pre-draft and while on the clock about potentially moving back. But the lure of getting a player of Sewell's caliber was just too strong for Holmes to pass up.

When Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase at No. 5, and Miami also went receiver at No. 6 with Alabama speedster Jaylen Waddle, Holmes knew he had his guy and the draft room video cameras caught the emotional side of Holmes, not only after Miami made their pick, but after the Lions turned in their card and got on the phone with Sewell.

Holmes was seen hugging, shouting and hitting the table, and it was a side of him we haven't yet seen since he took over the reins of the franchise in mid-January.

Football is an emotional game, and it was good to see the passion emanating from the top of the organization for a player in Sewell who Holmes considers to be a foundational piece for what he's trying to build in Detroit.

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