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Detroit Lions Week 14 rookie review: 11 first-year players play vs. Broncos

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 14.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was a weird week for the Detroit Lions.

After a lot of uncertainty leading up to the game, the Lions simply did not have enough to hang in this one, losing 38-10 to the Denver Broncos.

Let’s take a closer look at how the 2021 rookies—and there were a lot of them—performed on Sunday.

Penei Sewell, OL

Snap counts: 63 (100%)

What Sewell is accomplishing this season is truly special.

After a few rough spots early on, the 21-year-old rookie out of Oregon continues to elevate his play, seemingly on a weekly basis.

And despite the lopsided score against the Broncos in Week 14, Sewell had one of his best games as a pro against a formidable Denver front. Important to note that Sewell has been battling a shoulder injury for a few weeks now, and was among those affected by the flu leading up to the game.

Because Sewell is an offensive tackle and plays for a team that has one win, he likely won’t receive much chatter for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But, if you ask me, he absolutely deserves to at least be in the conversation.

He has been that good.

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

Snap counts: 27 (40%) — 6 (27%)

Onwuzurike, along with many other teammates, was fighting off the flu that was making its way through Allen Park last week. And because he didn’t practice much, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn leaned on veterans Michael Brockers and Nick Williams against the Broncos.

During his 27 defensive snaps, Onwuzurike tallied four total tackles.

Alim McNeill, DL

Snap counts: 19 (28%)

Like his fellow rookie defensive lineman, McNeill was affected by the flu, causing him to miss practice all week.

Despite only playing 19 defensive snaps, McNeill had a busy afternoon, registering four tackles and his first career sack.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

Snap counts: 47 (75%) — 6 (27%)

While the outcome was ugly overall, there are a few positives fans can take away from the loss to the Broncos. Like St. Brown quickly becoming one of quarterback Jared Goff’s favorite targets. The rookie receiver out of USC was targeted 12 times, hauling in eight catches for 73 yards.

With this rebuild still in its foundational stages, this is a great development for general manager Brad Holmes’ inaugural draft class. Finding good value, like your slot receiver of the future in the fourth round, is exactly how you successfully construct a winning roster in the NFL.

Derrick Barnes, LB

Snap counts: 47 (69%) — 6 (27%)

When veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone left the game with an injury, Barnes saw an uptick in his snaps.

However, it was linebacker Josh Woods who ended up with the “green dot” helmet, disseminating the defensive call from Aaron Glenn.

Barnes finished the game with five tackles, but was beat in coverage on a handful of occasions, including this shot down the sideline to tight end Noah Fant.

Let’s hope the rookie linebacker can learn a lot from a game like this and it aids in his growth moving forward.

Jermar Jefferson, RB

Snap counts: 3 (5%)

A lot of fans were excited to get a look at Jefferson against the Broncos, only to see the bulk of the carries go to running back Craig Reynolds.

Head coach Dan Campbell clarified that Jefferson was among those dealing with the flu, as well as a lingering ankle injury that caused him to miss the majority of last week’s practices.

This coaching staff has been consistent with their messaging that playing time is to be earned during the week.

Jerry Jacobs, CB

Snap counts: 5 (7%)

This loss hurts for a number of reasons.

Even before Jacobs was injured just five snaps into the game, the Lions were already incredibly thin at the cornerback position. Jacobs has been one of the major bright spots for the Lions and was getting better every week under defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.

Dan Campbell did confirm that this is a long-term injury, ending Jacobs’ promising rookie season with a trip to the IR.

Jacobs’ ascent was truly a feel good story. Hopefully we will see him back on the field next year, picking up right where he left off.

Brock Wright, TE

Snap counts: 35 (56%) — 4 (18%)

Wright’s snap counts were fairly similar to where they have been, even with star tight end T.J. Hockenson sidelined with an injury.

Goff targeted Wright five times, and Wright caught three of those for a total of 20 yards.

Shane Zylstra, TE

Snap counts: 40 (63%) — 11 (50%)

Zylstra was active during his first real action on offense, seeing 40 offensive snaps and being targeted in the passing game six times.

Sadly, for both Zylstra and the Lions offense, those six targets only yielded two catches for 18 yards.

Tommy Kraemer, OL

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 2 (9%)

Kraemer’s only action was special teams duty.

Ryan McCollum, OL

Snap counts: 63 (100%) — 2 (9%)

With backup center Evan Brown landing on the reserve/COVID list, Ryan McCollum, a UDFA rookie out of Texas A&M, was tasked with starting at center.

And as expected for a player making his first start in the NFL, the results were mixed. McCollum had a few “welcome to the NFL” moments, including giving up a sack on the Lions’ opening possession.

Riley Patterson, K

Snap counts: 2 (9%)

Not a lot to report here. Patterson converted his only extra point attempt and connected on a 36-yard field goal.

Other rookies of note: CB AJ Parker is on IR for at least one more week. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu and CB Mark Gilbert were both placed on reserve/COVID.