2020 will not go down as a great year for the Detroit Lions’ rookie draft class. While the book on these players is nowhere near fully-written at this point, it’s hard to call the first year of many of these players anything but disappointing. There’s a reason Detroit’s draft class was considered bottom-five by NFL.com for 2020.
But that isn’t to say there weren’t promising performances by Lions rookies last season. We may not have gotten the kind of production out of Jeff Okudah that we wanted, but Detroit got significant production in two of their next three picks in the draft. They also got some serious production out of a late-round pick that could bode well for the future.
Here are your three nominees for 2020 Detroit Lions Rookie of the Year.
Stats: 114 carries, 521 yards (4.6 YPC), 8 TDs; 46 catches, 357 yards, 2 TDs
Swift’s rookie season didn’t get off to a great start. The coaching staff decided to ease him in, and on one of his few early opportunities, he dropped what would’ve been a game-winning touchdown.
However, it quickly became apparent just how valuable of a rusher he was when Detroit started to use him more. By Week 6, he already had his first 100-yard game—and on just 14 carries, no less. When he finally had assumed a starting role by Week 9, he was averaging 4.5 yards per carry on the regular.
And despite that early drop, Swift displayed his value in the passing game, especially toward the end of the season. His 357 receiving yards was the 11th most of any running back in the league.
Stats: 57.0 PFF grade
By PFF’s standards, Jackson’s rookie season was ordinary, if not underwhelming. His 57.0 grade ranked him 47th among 60 NFL guards who played at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps.
However, Jackson looked the part right out of the gate despite a shortened offseason and new players on both sides of him. He also underwent a position change early in the season, as the Lions moved him from right guard to left guard after Week 2. That’s no easy task for a rookie.
While Jackson went through the same inconsistencies that most rookies will go through, he never looked overwhelmed by NFL talent or confused by his assignment, which would be more than understandable for a third-round rookie. The foundation of Jackson’s talent has been laid, and his future seems bright.
Stats: 35 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1 fumble recovery
Due to injuries, Penisini was forced into the lineup way more than anyone expected of the sixth-round pick. In fact, there were only three rookies taken in the sixth or seventh round that played a higher percentage of snaps than Penisini did in 2020 (51.2 percent).
And while Penisini was far from perfect (41.4 PFF grade), he took on one of the toughest responsibilities in football—two-gapping from the nose tackle position—and looked more than comfortable doing it.
Continuing to see some serious promise from rookie DT John Penisini.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) October 7, 2020
Here he is up against former UM center Cesar Ruiz (#51) overpowering with 1 hand and meeting the RB at the LOS on a 3rd-and-1 (he barely got the first down). pic.twitter.com/YDsLkISrOZ
He may not be ready to take on a full-time starting role in 2021, but he’s already proven he can be a valuable depth piece on a defense that requires some big, run-stuffing defensive tackles.
Who was the Lions Rookie of the Year in 2020?
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