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Detroit Lions Week 12 rookie review: Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill make plays on Thanksgiving

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 12

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Another week and another frustrating loss for the Detroit Lions, falling to the Chicago Bears, 16-14 on Thanksgiving Day.

If you sift through the back-breaking penalties and head-scratching coaching decisions, there were several positives—most of them centering around youth.

Let’s take a closer look at how the 2021 draft class performed during Thursday’s Thanksgiving matchup.

Penei Sewell, OL

Snap counts: 49 (100%) —1 (4%)

Overall, it was another really solid week from Sewell. He missed a handful of special teams snaps while dealing with an apparent upper-body injury, but he did not miss any snaps on offense. He was penalized twice, but to be fair, Taylor Decker, Evan Brown, and Tommy Kraemer were also all were penalized twice.

On the ground, Sewell was brilliant, posting a 93.2 run-blocking grade, per PFF.

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

Snap counts: 23 (33%) — 5 (21%)

Despite seeing fewer snaps—as the Lions leaned on edge rushers—I believe Onwuzurike had his best game yet as a pro. He finished the day with two tackles and his first career sack, where he displayed the power that made the Lions select him in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft.

If he can display this kind of disruptive play on a more consistent basis, then we should start to see Onwuzurike begin taking snaps away from veterans Nick Williams and Michael Brockers.

Alim McNeill, DL

Snap counts: 25 (36%)

Similar to Onwuzurike, I believe McNeill had his best game as a Lion against the Bears. Plays like the one below are exactly what you are looking for from your nose tackle in this defense. Anchor at the point of attack, shed the blocker, make the play. Beautiful, textbook play by the rookie.

As we trudge towards the conclusion of this season, seeing McNeill and Onwuzurike’s growth is a positive development worth keeping an eye on.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

Snap counts: 48 (98%) — 3 (12%)

While he only missed one offensive snap, St. Brown was targeted just four times and finished the day with 23 yards on four catches.

I believe St. Brown brings more to the table than we have seen this year. But with how limited the Lions' passing attack has been, defenses are picking up on a lot of the screens the Lions are running, thus, limiting the effectiveness of those concepts before they even have a chance to develop.

Derrick Barnes, LB

Snap counts: 19 (27%) — 4 (17%)

For the majority of the game, the Lions opted to only go with two linebackers on the field. But when Jalen Reeves-Maybin suffered an injury, that left the door open for Barnes to step in alongside Alex Anzalone.

Barnes, who also briefly left the game due to a concussion examiniation, recorded two total tackles, including this tackle for loss. You can tell the game is gradually slowing down for Barnes, and that is certainly a welcomed sign moving forward.

Jermar Jefferson, RB

Snap counts: 5 (10%)

In his first week since returning from his injury, Jefferson did not have a target or touch against the Bears.

With second-year back D’Andre Swift likely not being available for the upcoming game against the Minnesota Vikings, maybe this is the week Jefferson can solidify his role in the ground game.

Jerry Jacobs, CB

Snap counts: 70 (100%) — 9 (38%)

This may be unpopular among fans, since Amani Oruwariye has five interceptions on the season (including a beauty against Chicago), but Jerry Jacobs has been the Lions' most consistent cornerback all season. This past Thursday, he registered five tackles, and another pass break up, where he brought out his signature “seatbelt” celebration.

Admittedly, I love the seatbelt celebration. Gotta enjoy the little things, man...

Mark Gilbert, CB

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 8 (33%)

Gilbert’s only playing time came on special teams, where he saw eight snaps.

Brock Wright, TE

Snap counts: 15 (31%) — 6 (25%)

Not much to note with Wright—he did not see a ball thrown his way while he was on the field and continues to be used primarily as a blocker.

Tommy Kraemer, OL

Snap counts: 49 (100%) — 3 (12%)

Kraemer did about as well as one could hope for when starting a UDFA rookie at right guard. As mentioned before, Kraemer, along with 4/5 of the Lions' offensive line, was penalized twice against the Bears. Not ideal.

Riley Patterson, K

Snap counts: 3 (12%)

In his NFL debut, Patterson wasn’t asked to do too much. He made both extra points, including one twice, since the Lions were flagged on the first attempt.

Other rookies of note: CB Ifeatu Melifonwu was out with a thigh injury but was activated on Monday, 11/29. CB AJ Parker is on IR for at least two more weeks.

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