Defensive tackle was considered one of the Detroit Lions’ biggest needs going into the 2020 NFL Draft. With A’Shawn Robinson, Damon Harrison and (possibly) Mike Daniels on their way out, Detroit has over 1,250 snaps to replace. And while they added Nick Williams and Danny Shelton in free agency, they were expected to add another player in the draft—potentially even Auburn’s Derrick Brown in the first round.
However, the Lions opted to wait all the way until Round 6 to address the interior defensive line. The Lions called Utah defensive tackle John Penisini’s name late in the draft, causing some fans to scramble to find out who this guy was... other than Leki Fotu’s linemate.
So to help us get to know Penisini a little better, we got into contact with Christopher Kamrani, the Utah beat writer for The Athletic, to help us get to know Penisini a little better.
1. What are Penisini’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
“John Penisini got drafted because of his ability to keep going. He doesn’t have tremendous measurables as an NFL defensive tackle, but he doesn’t make game-changing mistakes. He demands attention from interior offensive linemen because of his prowess on the front lines. He eats gaps, so to speak. And he sheds blocks extremely well in the run game. Utah has long been a program that controls the line of scrimmage because of its talented defensive lines. Penisini stepped in and kept the dominance rolling. As defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley told me recently, he just doesn’t quit on plays. Which is why he is so effective in stopping the opposing rushing attack. As far as weaknesses, Penisini has to improve on his own interior pass-rush abilities. He doesn’t quit, but if he can round out his pass-rushing abilities on obvious passing plays and downs, he can work his way into the fray in Year 1.”
2. What kind of player are the Lions getting off the field?
“He’s quiet and pretty soft-spoken. He’s no-nonsense. Isn’t brash or loud or anything. Just does his thing.”
3. Do you have a story or example of Penisini’s time at Utah that perfectly explains who he is as a player/person?
“For a play, I think the win at Washington last year showed flashes of what John Penisini can be as an interior force. As Scalley mentioned: he caused a fumble early on against the Huskies that helped Utah stem a rough start out of the gates. Penisini chased down Washington QB Jacob Eason and not only brought him down but forced a fumble by punching the ball loose out of Eason’s right arm. Motor is usually an overrated cliche when it comes to NFL prospects, but Penisini got picked by the Lions because of his ability to keep going.”
4. How does Penisini compare to his linemate Leki Fotu?
“Fotu is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds. He looks like he is just getting bigger every time you see him. Penisini doesn’t have the size that Fotu does, but then again, most don’t. Penisini plays with impressive leverage on the inside and relies on his technique to get him where he needs to be.”
5. Do you think it’s realistic to have any rookie expectations for Penisini given that he’s a big run stuffer or is he more of a project?
“I think it depends on what Matt Patricia and his staff need in 2020. If the Lions are thin on the defensive line interior, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them give Penisni a run and see if he can replicate in Detroit what he accomplished at Utah. Penisini’s presence also allows edge rushers to be one-on-one more often and allows blitzing linebackers in free more often than not. In a division where the Lions always face dynamic opposing offenses, I think Penisini’s overall skill-set will allow him a shot at being part of a defensive line rotation, should he stay healthy early on.”