The Detroit Lions rookie class is the foundation of general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Cambell’s future and they’re off to a terrific start. Not only have the Lions gotten production out of six of their seven drafted players, but a few undrafted players have stepped into starting roles as well.
So let’s continue our bye week series of 2021 Lions midseason superlatives with our staff’s picks for the Lions’ best rookie.
Note: In order to get these articles submitted on time, some of these responses were given before Week 8’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Who is the Detroit Lions’ best rookie at the midway point?
Erik Schlitt: Penei Sewell
The Lions have gotten a lot of contributions from rookies this season and all of them have seen their share of ups and downs. Each looks like they have the potential to contribute for the Lions for the next several seasons, but none have flashed the elite-level talent level that Sewell has. He’s a rare talent and while he is still learning the NFL game, he is rapidly developing and gaining consistency. His performance in L.A. versus Aaron Donald was something you don’t see from 20-year-olds. And Lions fans are getting a front-row seat to watch a player with a seemingly unlimited ceiling.
Mike Payton: Jerry Jacobs
The undrafted cornerback wasn’t supposed to get much playing time in 2021. After Jeff Okudah went down for the season, and Ifeatu Melifonu landed on IR, Jacobs has really stepped up in his absence. There’s still a lot of work to do but Jacobs’ work ethic has him on the right track to turn out to be a pretty good corner in the NFL. I look forward to seeing where he goes from here.
John Whiticar: Alim McNeill
There are a lot of worthy candidates. Penei Sewell has been great, although there’s the question about his future position. AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs are filling in admirably in the secondary. Derrick Barnes and Levi Onwuzurike are playing well in limited snaps. However, my vote goes to Alim McNeill. I’ve been hyping up McNeill all year, and the dividends are paying off. There’s a stark difference between McNeill and Danny Shelton from last year. Whereas Shelton merely filled a void, McNeill is actually causing disruptions along the offensive line. A nose tackle with that type of pop is extremely valuable, and I’m excited to see how McNeill progresses.
Andrew Kato: Sewell
Ryan Mathews: Sewell
It was a rough start for Sewell when he was playing on the opposite side, but now that he’s found his footing back at left tackle, Sewell has really shown why he was the Lions’ top pick in last year’s draft. Of course, it hasn’t all been pretty, in his first four games, Sewell allowed 11 pressures including two sacks and four quarterback hits. In his last four games, he has allowed just six pressures, two sacks, and one quarterback hit. For a player as young as Sewell, the progress he’s shown after taking a year off from football in 2020 is definitely encouraging.
Kyle Yost: Sewell.
Top-10 pick looks like a top-10 pick. Sewell was off for a year, then suddenly shifted to a position that he was not expecting to play and looks just about as good as possible. He is already making it clear that he is among the league’s best tackles, which is absolutely wild to think about. There will be some interesting things to watch as Taylor Decker returns, but Sewell has easily justified the Lions’ decision already.
Hamza Baccouche: Sewell
In my opinion, it has been a weak showing from the rookie class thus far. I have to give this award to Sewell since nobody else is putting up a fight, but man do I do so reluctantly. A sad rookie class thus far, although I’m guessing that if Ifeatu Melifonwu were still healthy he’d be in the discussion right now for the simple fact that he’d be a half-season into being forced into the CB2 role. If Derrick Barnes had more playing time under his belt, I’d offer it up to him too. This rookie class does not look great so far, and I’m especially discouraged by the lack of hearing Levi Onwuzurike’s or Alim McNeill’s names thus far.
Morgan Cannon: Sewell
Drafted number seven overall in 2021, the Lions have asked a lot of Penei Sewell during the first half of the season. Originally, he was supposed to cut his teeth at right tackle with veteran Taylor Decker at left tackle. But when Decker was sidelined prior to Week 1, Sewell was all of the sudden back on the left side.
He has had his fair share of tough reps, since he is seeing a lot of these NFL-level moves for the first time ever. However, he adapts quickly, rarely falling for the same move twice. This staff is putting plenty on the 21 year old’s plate and he appears to be taking it all in stride.
Kellie Rowe: Sewell
He’s still adjusting, as you’d imagine, but undoubtedly the seventh overall pick has a bright future. He moved from right tackle to left just days before the season began and shined against the 49ers and Nick Bosa right off the bat. He’s had his ups and downs but the ability to bounce back is important in a developing player. At just 21 years old, he’s gone toe-to-toe with some of the best, including Aaron Donald — AND didn’t take any lip from him.
Jeremy Reisman: Sewell and Jacobs
I’m the boss, so I can cheat.
No one on this team has been asked to do more than this duo. For Sewell, it was moving to the right side after making a name for himself on the left at Oregon. And then a few days before his debut against Nick freakin’ Bosa, they thrust him back to the left side with only a couple days of practice reps. He responded by dominating. And while he’s been up and down since then, he’s on a pretty good streak right now—only to likely be moved back to the right side soon.
How about a positive tweet?— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) November 1, 2021
Over the past 3 weeks, Penei Sewell has posted a PFF grade of 80.4, good for 8th among all NFL tackles.
For Jacobs, entering training camp, his most likely scenario was to land on the practice squad and absorb as much as he can in his rookie year from the coaching staff and Jeff Okudah. Instead, his hard work landed him on the 53-man squad, and a rash of injuries landed him in the starting lineup. With almost zero expectations, Jacobs has looked the part and earned the trust of the coaching staff to the point in which they have him occasionally shadowing the team’s No. 1 receiver and have even gotten consideration in the slot. It’s early, but at this point, it feels like Jacobs has likely found a long-term home in Detroit and may even be a serious candidate for a starting role in 2022.
Who is the Detroit Lions’ best rookie at the midway point?
This poll is closed