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Detroit Lions Week 15 rookie review: Rookies step up as Lions dominate

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 15

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

Let’s take a closer look at how the Detroit Lions 2021 draft class fared in their 30-12 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15.

Penei Sewell, OL

Snap counts: 65 (100%)

I have said this for several weeks now but man, it really seems like Sewell is hitting his stride.

Earlier in the season, certain pass rushers who brought a lot of speed and bend off the edge were giving Sewell problems. After several weeks and seeing a lot of these moves for the first time, the rookie tackle out of Oregon is making the necessary adjustments.

Sewell entered the league lauded as one of the better tackle prospects in some time. He has always been freaky fast for someone that big and strong. The finer details, like hand placement on his initial punch, are going to continue to get better with time.

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

Snap counts: 26 (35%) — 2 (8%)

With the Lions getting out to an early lead, the Cardinals were forced to abandon the run and throw more often than they’d like to. This led to fewer snaps to go around among the interior defensive line group.

Onwuzurike made one stop during his 26 defensive snaps.

Alim McNeill, DL

Snap counts: 17 (23%)

Similar story for McNeill. The rookie defensive tackle out of North Carolina State had one tackle during his time on the field.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB

Snap counts: 5 (7%) — 3 (12%)

It’s clear at this point that the coaching staff wants to take their time in easing Melifonwu back into the fold, but his limited snaps this week may be due to not practicing all week while on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Melifonwu entered the league as a raw, but intriguing prospect, with a lot of upside and potential to play several positions.

Even if he isn’t getting a ton of live reps on Sunday just yet, these weeks on the active roster are really valuable for a player like Melifonwu, who spent a significant amount of time sidelined with a thigh injury earlier in the year.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

Snap counts: 45 (69%) — 4 (16%)

26 catches, 249 yards, and two touchdowns.

Those are the numbers St. Brown has put up in the last three weeks—including another technician-like performance against the Cardinals, finishing with 90 yards on eight catches, and a touchdown.

After taking some time to earn the trust of quarterback Jared Goff, St. Brown is quickly becoming the quarterback’s favorite target. And with key contributors like D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockeson missing extended time due to injury, St. Brown’s timing couldn’t be better.

Derrick Barnes, LB

Snap counts: 47 (63%) — 13 (52%)

Barnes’ physical gifts are undeniable. He can really fly sideline to sideline, and once he diagnoses what is happening in front of him, he can get downhill in a hurry. The trouble is, it is still taking him a little too long to read his keys, causing him to be a step slow in getting where he needs to be on a run fit, or in his drops.

In college, you can get away with some of those things when you can run like Barnes can run. In the NFL? Completely different story.

It’s still really early in Barnes’ development and I think it’s important to remember, players develop at different speeds. People tend to forget Darius Slay had a rough couple of years prior to figuring things out in his third year as a pro.

During his 47 defensive snaps, Barnes notched five total tackles.

Jermar Jefferson, RB

Snap counts: 6 (9%)

Unsure if this was more due to Jefferson still nursing an ankle injury, or the Lions riding the hot hand of running back Craig Reynolds. Likely a combination of both. Of his six snaps, Jefferson carried the ball five times for a total of nine yards.

AJ Parker, CB

Snap counts: 68 (91%) — 2 (8%)

Parker had a few hiccups in coverage during his first return to action since coming off of the injured reserve last week, but he also made his fair share of plays too - finishing with six tackles and two PBU’s.

With so much turnover at the corner position this year, getting Parker back is bigger than it seems at a glance.

Brock Wright, TE

Snap counts: 49 (75%) — 12 (48%)

Wright had a rough day against Arizona, particularly when it came to drive ending penalties. In the third quarter when he was penalized for holding, and again on fourth down, when he committed a false start.

I know we are only weeks into Wright’s professional career, and he has even more on his plate now with Hockenson being out, but the Lions are going to need better play from this unit over the next three weeks. If nothing else, fewer mental errors would be a start.

Shane Zylstra, TE

Snap counts: 29 (45%) — 4 (16%)

Another UDFA rookie learning on the fly, Zylstra caught the one pass thrown his way for 16 yards, and saw plenty of action when the Lions had multiple tight ends on the field.

Tommy Kraemer, OL

Snap counts: 65 (100%) — 6 (24%)

With Jonah Jackson unable to play due to a back injury, Kramer took over the starting left guard role. Kraemer had only stated one time at left guard in college and had never played that position before in the NFL, and all things considered, he played well.

Both Kraemer, and center Evan Brown have proven themselves to be more than capable backups on the interior offensive line.

Ryan McCollum, OL

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 6 (24%)

With Brown returning from the reserve/COVID list, McCollum was relegated to special teams duty.

Brady Breeze, S

Snap counts: 14 (19%) — 13 (52%)

After being claimed off of the Tennessee Titans practice squad, Breeze was immediately thrown into the fray against the Cardinals. The sixth-round pick out of Oregon totaled three tackles when the Lions opted for three safety looks late in the game.

Riley Patterson, K

Snap counts: 6 (24%)

Patterson continues to be dependable in the kicking game, finishing 3/3 on extra points and hitting all three of his field goal attempts, including a 47 yarder.

Other rookies of note: CB Mark Gilbert was placed on reserve/COVID and CB Jerry Jacobs was placed on IR with a knee injury.