clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL Draft: Grading all of the Lions’ 2021 picks

Handing out grades for the Lions’ 2021 haul.

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions and general manager Brad Holmes completed their first draft of a new era for this franchise. Let’s assess how they did.

First round (7): OT Penei Sewell (Oregon)

I don’t really have anything negative to say about the player, but the Sewell pick gets a slight bump down from me for two reasons:

1) I would have much rather have taken a QB here with Justin Fields still on the board as I had him as the best player available at that spot. Allowing a division rival to move up and grab him instead is going to sting a little, but hopefully, I’m wrong and the Bears will once again ruin their QB situation.

2) Trading back would be the play for me if they weren’t sold on a QB. Instead, let someone else trade up for him. Clearly, the Bears were interested and believed he wouldn’t fall too far.

Staying pat and taking Sewell is a boring and safe pick, but still a great one. I’m not going to complain about getting arguably the best player available at a position that we can significantly improve. If we’ve learned anything about Jared Goff’s career, it’s that he needs a good offensive line in front of him to give him a threatening run game and a good play-action attack. This pick fortifies the right side of that line and I’m happy with building from the trenches.

Role: Starting OT (most likely RT based on Brad Holmes’ comments)
Grade: B+

Second round (41): DT Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)

I will admit this pick came at me out of left field, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad pick. Onwuzurike was a name I had listed on my best players available for Day 2, but with the way the board fell, I was expecting to see one of the top linebackers, wide receivers, or safeties here considering how deep those positions were.

Still, Onwuzurike adds a dimension to the Lions’ interior D-line that they’ve been missing for quite a while: explosiveness and pass rushing ability.

If Onwuzurike can return to the form that we saw him play at in 2019, then the Lions are getting maybe the best interior rusher that this class has to offer. He should fit well on the D-line as a one-gap pass rusher with brute strength and elite quickness.

Role: Developmental/Role player (one-gap pass rusher, likely 3-tech, that can move to the outside if need be)
Grade: B

Third round (72): DT Alim McNeill (North Carolina State)

On Day 2, the Lions decide to double-dip at defensive tackle. If you’re a part of the “build from the trenches out” crowd, then boy is this the draft for you. I think this pick compared to the last might be slightly better value and a safer pick considering McNeill did not opt-out for the 2020 season.

Like Onwuzurike, McNeill is a crazy good athlete that even played some linebacker and running back in high school. He’s also apparently a really good baseball player, so if the whole football thing doesn’t work out, then he’s got that going for him.

You absolutely love to see the Lions going with three elite athletes with their first three picks. It’s a refreshing change from the previous regime that seemed to value perfect fits over talent.

Again, I’d liked to have seen the Lions maybe get one of the top remaining WRs or LBers here, but you can’t expect to get what you want with every pick. The Lions clearly have a plan and it seems to be just letting the board fall to them and picking the best player on their board, and I respect that.

McNeill fits immediately as a 0- or 1-tech that can eat up space and push the pocket with his speed-to-power combo. DT wasn’t necessarily an immediate need for this team, but the cupboard was bare for the future, and these guys can probably come in and contribute immediately.

Role: Role Player (NT or 1-tech needed for stuffing the run and controlling the middle)
Grade: B+

Third round (101): CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse)

The Lions capped off Day 2 with my favorite pick of the draft, grabbing one of the most athletic corners in the entire draft. I was exposed to Melifonwu’s film a couple of years ago and fell in love with his combination of size and athleticism. Unlike his brother Obi, Melifonwu isn’t just an athlete. He has some traits you love to see in a CB and has the potential to turn into a very good physical corner on the outside.

Though the Lions probably needed more immediate help at slot corner, Melifonwu likely will take time to develop in the NFL, and adding some depth to the outside is needed.

Role: Developmental (potential future starter on the outside)
Grade: A

Fourth round (112): WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

On Day 3, the Lions wasted little time addressing positions of need that they weren’t able to address on Day 2. With Quintez Cephus being the only WR signed beyond 2022 on the roster, it was imperative that the Lions add another young receiver at some point in the draft. Though they waited this long, St. Brown is fantastic value here and widely considered a steal.

St. Brown is one of the most detail-oriented route runners in this class and although he doesn’t have elite speed, he more than makes up for it with his feel for the game and exceptional technique.

It might be crazy to think about, but St. Brown could already be one of, if not the most talented receiver on this roster. He certainly should get a lot more looks than a typical rookie would, and he could earn an early look as the Lions’ starting slot receiver.

Role: Starter/Role Player (probably the best slot option on the roster already)
Grade: A

Fourth round (113): LB Derrick Barnes (Purdue)

Following their first pick of Day 3, the Lions wasted no time at all trading up and making it back-to-back picks. 30 minutes in and they address both of their two biggest remaining needs on the roster in WR and LB.

Barnes is the type of linebacker that you wouldn’t have seen on a Lions roster under Matt Patricia. He’s not as big as the previous regime would have looked for, but he does have traits that actually matter in the NFL, like speed. As for his fit in Detroit, here’s what our own Erik Schlitt had to say about Barnes:

These traits will likely lead to him holding down developmental off-the-ball linebacker as a rookie, with the ability to be a situational pass rusher on the edge and the A and B gaps. Barnes will also be a Day 1 special teams contributor, and based on his experience, he should play in all phases.

Role: Developmental/Role Player
Grade: B+

Seventh round (257): RB Jermar Jefferson (Oregon State)

Following a grueling six-hour wait, the Lions finished their draft class off with a running back. Though he didn’t match the elite athleticism of the rest of this draft, I don’t think running back is one of those positions where speed matters as much. Explosiveness, however, does translate for RBs, and the fact that Jefferson tested very poorly in that area could be cause for concern.

But with late round picks, you don’t often hit on them and at this point, you’re just throwing darts on a dartboard. If he sticks he sticks, and if he doesn’t, then no harm, no foul.

Among Jefferson’s best qualities as a running back are his vision, smoothness as a zone-runner, violence, and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He posted some very good college numbers and if he were a more explosive or agile athlete, then maybe he’d have gone much earlier in the draft.

I’d expect Jefferson to likely be a candidate for the practice squad right away and is unlikely to see any action barring injuries.

Role: Developmental (possible RB3/4 down the road)
Grade: B-

Overall grade: B+

This draft has gotten a ton of positive national reception and it’s easy to see why. Rather than reaching for need, Brad Holmes and company simply let the board fall to them and picked the best players available, getting tremendous value every step of the way. It will take some time before the Lions manage to become serious contenders and there are still plenty of holes on the roster, but the culture and future of this team is slowly starting to come together nicely. It feels good to be a Lions fan again.


What is your grade for the Lions’ 2021 NFL Draft class?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    (2088 votes)
  • 37%
    (1394 votes)
  • 4%
    (151 votes)
  • 0%
    (19 votes)
  • 0%
    (26 votes)
3678 votes total Vote Now

Thanksgiving deal: Save 20% on PODD

What's more Lions than football on Thanksgiving!? To celebrate the holiday, use promo code GOLIONS20 to save 20% on your first year of Pride of Detroit Direct. Sign up today for exclusive game analysis, subscriber-only videos, and much more!