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Detroit Lions Week 16 rookie review: Amon-Ra St. Brown becomes focal point

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 16

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Let’s take a closer look at how the Detroit Lions 2021 draft class fared in their 20-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16.

Penei Sewell, OL

Snap counts: 67 (100%)

It wasn’t Sewell’s cleanest game in terms of pass blocking, but even when that aspect of his game isn’t perfect, he remains an invaluable cog in the Lions running game.

In the video below, the Lions ran this action twice against Atlanta, both times with Sewell pulling and getting in front of receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. Sewell’s reaction to St. Brown not following him to the outside here is both hilarious, and frustrating.

Although it didn’t work as well as it could have, I love the creativity of the design, as well as the concept of getting your most dynamic run blocker out in front of the ball carrier.

Just a sample of all the fun things the Lions will be able to do in the run game as Sewell develops as a pro.

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

Snap counts: 21 (46%) — 4 (17%)

His box score doesn’t jump out at you from a numbers standpoint (two total tackles), but Onwuzurike was on the field for 21 snaps in a game where the Lions’ defense limited Atlanta to 47 yards on 18 carries.

It appears the rookie has played his way into a nearly even three-man rotation, splitting time with veterans Nick Williams and Michael Brockers.

Alim McNeill, DL

Snap counts: 19 (41%)

McNeill was touted as an NFL-ready run-stopper coming out of North Carolina State, and with time, I think he will excel in that area.

But if he can continue to generate interior pressure like this on a more consistent basis, the Lions will have one of the more precious assets in football—a disruptive, pocket collapsing, force in the middle of their defense.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB

Snap counts: 46 (100%) — 2 (9%)

It was an up-and-down day for the rookie corner.

He was good in run support, ending the day with five tackles. But was picked on a few times in coverage, particularly when quarterback Matt Ryan found prolific rookie tight end Kyle Pitts in one-on-one situations.

Overall, this isn’t a bad job in coverage by Melifonwu, just a great throw by a veteran quarterback, and some subtle hand fighting by Pitts. Melifonwu is more or less in-phase with Pitts, but makes the mistake of turning his head too early, giving the tight end a chance to separate just enough to snag the pass before stepping out of bounds.

With experience and repetition, Melifonwu will learn to remain in phase, and either work through the receiver's hands when the ball arrives, or locate the ball as the receiver presents his hands to make the catch.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

Snap counts: 59 (88%)

Another week of St. Brown ascending closer to the sun. Nine receptions for 91 yards, and a touchdown, leaving him with 74 catches, 692 yards, and three scores on the season.

This man is an absolute gamer, and you can tell by the way he carries himself.

Take his touchdown catch for example. This wasn’t a terribly accurate throw by quarterback Tim Boyle, making the catch more difficult than it needed to be. And not only did St. Brown haul it in, but he also put his head down and bullied his way to a score.

His emergence as the focal point of the Lions' offense is certainly one of the bigger positives we can take away from the second half of the 2021 season.

Derrick Barnes, LB

Snap counts: 14 (30%) — 6 (26%)

It’s still so early in this process, and I don’t want people to get worked up over this, but it is a little concerning that Wayne State alum Anthony Pittman out-snapped Barnes against Atlanta. With veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone now on IR, many expected Barnes to get a bump in playing time with Jalen Reeves-Maybin sliding into Anzalone’s role.

Definitely something to keep an eye on over the next two weeks.

Despite the low amount of snaps, Barnes notched three tackles, including a sack and a quarterback hit.

AJ Parker, CB

Snap counts: 24 (52%)

Parker continues to be the Lions' most consistent option at nickel corner. And with all of the injuries suffered to the cornerback room, they just need bodies to close out the year.

Parker had two tackles, as well as this diving pass break up to force an Atlanta punt.

Mark Gilbert, CB

Snap counts: 2 (4%) — 2 (9%)

With Melifonwu back in action, Gilbert was relegated to a reserve role.

Brock Wright, TE

Snap counts: 49 (73%) — 8 (35%)

To put it bluntly, Wright has been struggling for weeks now. And to be fair to him, it isn’t really his fault.

Wright was never supposed to be TE1 this season. If we are being honest, he wasn’t even supposed to be TE2. But injuries had different plans for this roster, and before you know it, you have a UDFA rookie starting, in an offense that asks quite a bit of its tight ends.

He continues to have issues with pre-snap penalties, has been an average to below-average blocker, and doesn’t offer a ton in the passing game, finishing with three receptions and four yards against Atlanta.

Now with injuries to superback Jason Cabinda, and fellow rookie Shane Zylstra, Wright is essentially all the Lions have at the position for the rest of the year.

And to add insult to injury, we found out Tuesday afternoon that Wright was added to the reserve/COVID list.

Sigh.

Shane Zylstra, TE

Snap counts: 13 (19%) — 5 (22%)

Terrible luck for Zylstra, who has a long road to recovery ahead of him, and a tough break for the Lions, who are already incredibly thin at tight end.

Wishing him a quick, and speedy return to the field.

Tommy Kraemer, OL

Snap counts: 0 (%) — 4 (17%)

Kraemer was relegated to special teams only duty.

Ryan McCollum, OL

Snap counts: 0 (%) — 4 (17%)

Same story for McCollum.

Brady Breeze, S

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 16 (70%)

Breeze apparently has caught special teams coordinator Dave Fipp’s eye, logging 16 snaps.

Another example of sometimes it can pay to get picked up by a bad team. Even if he doesn’t catch on with the Lions next year, Breeze now has some tape that other organizations will see.

Riley Patterson, K

Snap counts: 4 (17%)

Another impressive performance from Patterson, hitting all three of his field goal attempts.

Other rookies of note: CB Jerry Jacobs was placed on IR with a knee injury. RB Jermar Jefferson was inactive against Atlanta (coach’s decision).