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Detroit Lions 2021 NFL Draft recap: Draft class superlatives

Grades are great and all, but we’re not here to play school.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Oregon at USC Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions 2021 draft class is in the books. We’ve given you grades. We’ve given you value calculations. We’ve given you where they fit on the roster.

But now it’s time to hand out our 2021 Detroit Lions Draft Superlatives. We got a majority of the staff together to give their overall thoughts on the draft class, including the highlights and the lowlights.

Favorite Lions pick

Jeremy Reisman - Penei Sewell. The Lions got an elite player in this draft. Period. No, this wasn’t the “safe” pick, it was the best pick. Top three talent at seven overall.

Chris Perfett - Penei Sewell. I wrote about him, I keep watching his tape and I can’t help but feel excited. You may not think offensive tackles can be playmakers, but rest assured: you’re dead wrong, kiddo. Here, go watch this video of Sewell choke-slamming a dude in high school and tell me he can’t make plays.

Alex Reno - Amon-Ra St. Brown. The more I watch this kid, the more I think he might not only be the biggest steal for the Lions, but maybe the biggest steal of the draft. The Lions will get immediate contributions from him because of how weak their receiving corps is, but also because St. Brown is just that good. I love how detail-oriented he is as a route runner, and the Lions desperately need quick separation from their receivers. St. Brown can bring that and much more.

Andrew Kato - Amon-Ra St. Brown. I was already pumped by the first two days of the draft but was left wondering like everybody else where the needed wide receiver was. I agree with Alex (and John Whiticar) that St. Brown is likely to see the field a lot in his first season, especially from the slot. Obviously comps to pro players are speculative, but if any of the people making claims about him looking like Golden Tate are even remotely close to reality, that would be fantastic. I miss Golden Tate so much, and St. Brown was built to do this thang.

Ryan Mathews - Derrick Barnes. The stones on Holmes to make a pick at 112 and then trade all the way up to 113 to take a guy he wanted is just a masterstroke of draft strategy.

Here’s a post-draft piece from The Athletic detailing one scout's thoughts on Barnes:

“The Lions’ fourth-round selection of linebacker Derrick Barnes was termed ‘a steal’ by one veteran evaluator. He thinks Barnes, who moved to inside linebacker from outside linebacker in 2020, has first-round talent as an inside linebacker and is a better prospect than 2017 Lions first-round pick Jarrad Davis was. ‘The combine had bad grades on him, and people didn’t know about him until late,’ he said. ‘But he’s big, fast and tough.’”

Erik Schlitt - Penei Sewell. I love offensive line play and Sewell already does it at an elite level. Big men don’t move like him—he’s going to be fun to watch on Sundays.

Least favorite pick

Jeremy - Derrick Barnes. Detroit traded up and grabbed a guy they may have been able to get in the fifth round anyways. I love his athletic traits, and his highlight reel is unbelievably promising, but he’s still very new to the position, and I worry about his inexperience as a coverage linebacker.

Chris - Jermar Jefferson. I don’t really mean it, I just want to cop out on this category. By virtue of not having many draft picks but also many needs, I think there’s very little fat to trim from this class. I don’t know if Jefferson makes the final roster cut given the existing RB room, but I can’t really find it in me to pick apart a seventh rounder. Just a tight, lean class.

Reno - Jermar Jefferson. My reasoning for this pick is that I had to put someone down. I don’t really dislike the Jefferson pick at all, which is a testament to how well constructed this draft class is. Holmes did a great job of adding value at many positions of need and you never felt like he was reaching at any point. Jefferson is a fine prospect, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he never turns out to be anything. That’s just what you’d expect from most seventh-round picks.

Kato - Derrick Barnes. As mentioned by our fearless leader above, the trade up left a bad taste in my mouth. I like what I see written about Barnes, but the associated move that came with the selection spoiled the pick for me.

Ryan - Jermar Jefferson. The Lions running back room was all set heading into the draft, so I didn’t think a running back would be in play, even at pick 257. But really, who cares? I think the few of us who selected Jefferson are in fact complimenting Holmes on the job he did with the rest of the draft—and resenting Jeremy for making us choose a least favorite pick.

Erik - Jermar Jefferson. I don’t want to pile on the kid here, but the other six picks were just too good. He’s motivated to prove us all wrong and I’d be happy to see it.

Most excited to see in training camp

Jeremy - Levi Onwuzurike. I just want to see him fuck shit up, as promised.

Chris - Amon-Ra St. Brown. The man is just a damn gamer. He was working out at midnight after Day 2 of the draft. He’s got a hell of a competitive family, he’s exceptionally smart and has great work ethic. He plays physical and tough. It’s a large wide receiver room, and he’s the most intriguing.

Reno - Derrick Barnes. Seeing an actual linebacker on this team that can run fast and isn’t limited to only playing on special teams excites me more than you can even imagine. Nothing infuriated me more than watching our linebackers of the past arrive late to the ball on the boundaries.

Kato - Alim McNeill. The team needed a true nose tackle and now they have one. It’s him against Penisini for the starting spot, and I would love to see the new kid step in and dominate the mush pile. It’s an important piece of the (likely) new system - just look at all of Erik’s “projected role” articles and how often you see a nose over center.

Ryan - Amon-Ra St. Brown. I think he’s got a real chance of being the team’s starting slot receiver from the first day he steps on the field, so I want to see him make good on becoming an immediate impact player.

Erik - Penei Sewell. At training camp, I unconsciously get drawn into the battles in the trenches and he’s the shiny new star.

Best value pick

Jeremy - Amon-Ra St. Brown. While the Lions missed out on the first couple tiers of wide receivers in this draft, grabbing the versatile USC receiver in the fourth was great value.

Chris - Alim McNeill. Smarter people than I were over the moon at the Lions selecting McNeill in the third round. He had first round grades on some boards. He’s set to be the lynchpin of this reconstructed defensive line and will bring great pressure on the quarterback up the middle. An excellent pickup.

Reno - Amon-Ra St. Brown. Again, this was my favorite pick because of the value, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t double down on how much I love this pick. St. Brown is someone that I thought would have went much earlier than the 112th pick. He should see plenty of targets as a rookie and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won the starting slot job right off the rip.

Kato - Ifeatu Melifonwu. I just can’t believe both St. Brown and Melifonwu were still on the board when they were selected. This wide receiver class was astonishingly deep, but I’d not heard the same said about the cornerbacks. Especially not the towering ones like Melifonwu.

Ryan - Alim McNeill. Holmes could have selected McNeill with pick 41 and it would have been good value, so getting him at 72 was incredible value—just ask the Philadelphia Eagles.

Erik - Alim McNeill. I had McNeill right near the top of my DT rankings and he looks like a Day 1 starter at the nose.

Pick you wish the Lions would’ve made

Jeremy - Trevon Moehrig at 41. Safety went unaddressed in this draft, and the Lions had a shot at arguably the best in the draft. Onwuzurike is fun and definitely a culture fit, but seeing as he played nose tackle often in college his future at 3-tech in the NFL level is a bit of a projection.

Chris - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at 41. The Notre Dame linebacker is a solid Round 1 grade. I feel like the spectre of Isaiah Simmons is hanging over his play unfairly, and the title of “tweener” diminishes what makes JOK so special. The Browns traded up to get him; they also considered taking him in the first round. The Lions could have used a long-term talent like him at linebacker. Like Jeremy, I can’t hate the Onwuzurike pick much, but I was certainly rooting for this guy.

Reno - Jabril Cox at 113. I’m not really bent out of shape over any pick, but if I had to nitpick, I would have liked to have seen the Lions trade up for Cox rather than Barnes. Cox had an unexpected fall from grace and went just two picks behind where Barnes was selected. Cox, to me, was the better player and would have been better value, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Barnes ends up giving Holmes the validation of this trade up with his play.

Kato - Jabril Cox at 113. Same as Reno, the fact that Cox was still there and went two picks later is a bit grating. I remember seeing all the praise heaped on Cox for his coverage skills, and it’s something we’ve missed in Detroit since pre-injury DeAndre Levy. I don’t know much about Barnes, but clearly, management liked something they saw so I’m also okay with what they actually did. Would this have changed my opinion of the trade up? Maybe, but the world may never know.

Ryan - Asante Samuel Jr. at 41. Over the course of #DraftSZN, as everyone does, I really took a liking to Asante Samuel Jr. For one, I thought he was a first-round talent. For two, I was leaning in and embracing the fact that I’m turning to dust. Most importantly, Samuel Jr. would have filled an immediate need as the team’s slot cornerback and Holmes could have had him without sacrificing value for the sake of need.

Erik - Trevon Moehrig at 41. I’m with Jeremy here. Safety was a large need in my eyes and the top safety on my board was staring us in the face at the top of the second round.

UDFA most likely to make an impact

Jeremy - Notre Dame WR Javon McKinley. Follow the money. McKinley reportedly got $100,000 guaranteed, and if he can overcome his college injury issues, the Lions may have gotten a steal.

Chris - Virginia S D’Angelo Amos. Before transferring to Virginia as a graduate student, Amos was a standout punt returner at James Madison. He is JMU’s No. 2 all-time leader in returns with 1259 yards, and he brought back five punts for touchdowns. He’s going to be bring strong competition to make the roster as a special teams weapon.

Reno - Javon McKinley. Aside from the money that the Lions shelled out for McKinley, I just think the obvious answer here is any of the three receivers added post-draft. The Lions are lacking talent/depth at WR and it shouldn’t be hard for someone like McKinley to make his way onto the roster and have a decent impact.

Ryan - Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt. Look out, Quintez Cephus, you’ve got some camp competition for that big slot role this season.

Kato - D’Angelo Amos. Given that the Lions landed neither a premier free agent to anchor the back end at safety like John Johnson nor a stud prospect in the draft (see the pick Jeremy wished the Lions had made at 41 above), it’s a part of the roster where someone unexpected could slip into the final 53. Being able to contribute on special teams will be a huge asset to Amos’ case for making the cut.

Erik - Drake Jackson, C, Kentucky. A 4-year, 45 game starter on a people-moving offensive line. Jackson is a technician inside and has NFL-level hands/movement. He may not see the field in 2021 unless there is an injury but he’ll put in a lot of work behind the scenes during practices to make his impact. Forget about Beau Benzschawel, this is your new UDFA OL crush.

Biggest surprise

Jeremy - Not trading down. I really expected the Lions to accumulate more picks, but it sounds like Holmes was actually more interested in trading up this year. I’m slightly unnerved by that, but he admitted he learned a little more patience from this draft.

Chris - Double-dipping on DTs. I think Day 2 was where a lot of fans expected the Lions to address other needs like linebacker, wide receiver and safety. I stress that this is a surprise, not a disappointment. I’m happy with the strategy now that I’ve seen it all together as a total picture. We just all assumed the team would address their holes in a different fashion than they did.

Reno - Waiting until pick 112 to grab a receiver. It all worked out with the Lions getting a steal in St. Brown early in the fourth round, but I expected the Lions to address this position a lot sooner. Grabbing a WR and LB—two of the biggest remaining needs heading into Day 3—30 minutes into the final day of the draft helped relieve some of my biggest concerns for this roster.

Kato - How many rookies have a chance to actually play a ton of snaps. Our staff often jokes about how us fans on the outside get overly hyped about rookies and set unrealistic expectations for their immediate contributions, but look at this class. Sewell is almost assuredly the new starting right tackle. Both of the defensive tackles figure to be big pieces in the interior defensive line rotation because, well, there just isn’t a whole ton of depth there behind Brockers. St. Brown could end up being the starting slot receiver. Both Barnes and Melifonwu played on special teams in college, so the Lions will get some game usage out of them there as they develop to take on roles on defense.

Ryan - Not drafting a safety. It was pretty surprising to see Detroit kick the can on safeties when they had the chance to take any number of guys at pick No. 41. Maybe the Lions liked both Richie Grant and Jevon Holland more than Trevon Moehrig, and if that’s the case, kudos to Holmes and Co. for sticking to their very obvious draft strategy: BPA, baby.

Erik - No safety help. In one of Holmes’ first press conferences he mentioned how much talent there was in this safety class, and with it being such a large perceived need on the roster, not coming away with one was surprising. I’m expecting them to add a veteran free agent at the position like Tre Boston or Malik Hooker in the coming days.

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