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Detroit Lions Week 6 rookie review: Performances improve as snap counts increase

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 6.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another tough loss for the Detroit Lions. Although, this loss had a different feel than the first five of the season. The Lions were never really in this fight, falling 34-11 in their Week 6 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

With that said, everything wasn’t completely awful. The Lions' young defense kept them in the game for at least one half, and the 2021 rookie class continues to get more playing time.

Let’s take a closer look at how they played against the Bengals.

Penei Sewell, LT

63 offensive snaps (100%) — 1 special teams snap (4%)

Like much of the 2021 season, Penei Sewell had an up and down game against Cincinnati. There were reps he probably wishes he could have back, including some costly penalties. But as Lions coach Dan Campbell alluded to in his post-game press conference, quarterback Jared Goff is not doing his offensive line any favors with how deep he is getting into his drop-backs. Goff is drifting as far back as 10 or even 11 yards in the pocket at times, which makes life difficult for his offensive tackles.

Despite the penalties, Sewell was more good than he was bad, posting a respectable 74.8 overall grade, per PFF. He continues to thrive in the running game, making blocks that a 330 lb human shouldn’t be able to make. He also appears to learn and adapt quickly, rarely falling for the same move twice. You can find a thorough breakdown of all this below, as offensive line scout and analyst Brandon Thorn made his Week 6 newsletter available for everyone.

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

15 (21%) — 5 (20%)

The Lions seemed to lean on their bigger bodies against Cincinnati, with both Alim McNeill and John Penisini seeing a season-high in snaps. For now, I would assume the coaching staff views Onwuzurike better as a three-technique, where he can use his get-off and quickness to blow up gaps in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s defense. However, his ability to anchor and defend the run still remains a work in progress.

Alim McNeill, NT

30 (42%) — 1 (4%)

McNeill is coming along nicely as the season progresses and his career-high in snaps against the Bengals reinforces that. He only recorded two tackles on the day but his play pops on film more often than the stat sheet lets on.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

49 (78%) — 6 (24%)

St. Brown finished with five catches for 26 yards on a day when the offense could not get anything working. On one of the rare occasions when Goff tried to push the ball downfield, St. Brown appeared to make a tough catch in traffic before the ruling on the field was changed to an interception.

With how inept the Lions' offense has looked as of late, it makes it extremely difficult to analyze skill players and their growth.

Derrick Barnes, LB

32 (44%) — 3 (12%)

Barnes is another Lions rookie who recorded a career-high in snaps against the Bengals. He and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin continue to split snaps alongside veteran Alex Anzalone.

If I were to guess, this ratio will slowly shift in Barnes’ favor in the coming weeks. In just 32 snaps, he recorded a career-high nine tackles and had a very impressive pass breakup. His game is far from polished, but it will become more difficult to keep him off of the field as he adapts to being a pro.

Jermar Jefferson, RB

0 (0%) — 9 (36%)

Jefferson was active for the first time this season but only saw the field on special teams.

AJ Parker, NB

49 (68%) — 6 (24%)

Parker continues to be a fixture for the Lions at nickel back. He is another player that has his ups and downs, as any UDFA rookie in his position would. Still, if he can continue to progress, it will be a nice feather in the cap for Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.

Jerry Jacobs, CB

67 (93%) — 3 (12%)

Jacobs, another UDFA rookie starting in the Lions' secondary, was tasked with covering the fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. And for the most part, he fared well.

On one of the big plays to Chase, Jacobs looked to be expecting safety help over the top. And the other play was simply a perfect throw by Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Remove those two chunk plays and Jacobs had a really nice outing against one of the best young receivers in football.

His development will be interesting to follow as the Lions decide who will be foundational pieces of this roster in 2021 and beyond.

Other rookies of note: CB Ifeatu Melifonwu remains on injured reserve with a thigh injury, and CB Mark Gilbert was inactive as he is still acclimating after being acquired earlier in the week.

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