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Lions vs. Steelers preseason stock report: The rookies came to play

It was a great night for two rookie defenders against the Steelers.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions finished up their second preseason game, this time falling at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a stinker of a first half, the Lions managed to rally late to make it interesting, but the early deficit was too much to overcome. Still, this is preseason football, and the final score is just a side effect of what we’re really interested in: the performances.

Which players showed up for the Lions on Saturday night?

Stock Up: Levi Onwuzurike, DL

Onwuzurike made his much-anticipated debut, and he lived up to the hype. You never like to see a rookie get the injury bug early on, but Onwuzurike shook it off en route to a strong performance against the Steelers. Although he did not record a sack, he was wreaking havoc all night long, consistently applying pressure and getting in the face of the Steelers quarterback. After witnessing Alim McNeill put up some great performances in camp and preseason, there is plenty to be excited about along the Lions defensive line.

Stock Down: Jahlani Tavai, LB

I hate beating a dead horse. Everything has already been said about the play of Jahlani Tavai. He isn’t great in run defense. He’s a liability in coverage. Him blitzing does more harm than good. But it has reached a point where Philip Rivers has more children than Tavai has positive plays. For the record, that’s nine, and nine might be generous to Tavai. He got blown up on an attempted run stop, and his tackling attempt on a 46-yard catch by Najee Harris was horrific.

Stock Up: Craig Reynolds, RB

Reynolds is now a legitimate RB3 candidate. He had a great pass block that set up a long pass to Tom Kennedy, always appreciated by coaches, and his running and receiving looked impressive. He added another touchdown run too, and it’s hard not to wonder if he deserves more looks early in games. The biggest knock against him will be the level of competition late in the fourth quarter, but he is making a case for Jermar Jefferson’s spot.

Stock Up: Jack Fox, P

Fox was absolutely murdering footballs on Saturday, and his 70-yard punt was the lone highlight of the first half. Literally, it was the only video the Lions Twitter account posted. It isn’t even fair to give him a stock up, because that’s just how dominant Jack Fox has been for Detroit. It’s almost expected of him.

Stock Up: Derrick Barnes, LB

Barnes has been the Lions best linebacker this preseason by a country mile. It probably isn’t fair for us to expect so much from him, but the Lions need something from their linebackers, and Barnes is the only one showing out. His speed and decision making are assets, especially compared to Tavai. Unlike his competition, he is making plays in coverage and run defense, and he caps it off with sound tackling. He had a near-interception, two pass breakups, and a sack—he is so exciting to watch. Assuming he’s healthy, he needs to see the field more often.

Stock Down: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB

With Shaun Dion Hamilton out for the season, Reeves-Maybin had a prime opportunity to secure himself as the top linebacker reserve, given that the team wants to bring Barnes along slowly. Unfortunately, Reeves-Maybin was giving Tavai a run for the title of worst linebacker on Saturday. Not only was he abused in coverage, but he had one of the worst missed sacks you will ever see. The Lions are likely to lean on Barnes more than they expected, because the linebacker depth is horrendous.

Quick Hits

Stock Up:

David Blough, QB: He looked good, which is—spoiler alert—enough to give him a stock up over his fellow quarterbacks fighting for that backup spot. He led the team to three touchdown drives, including a nice red zone throw to Javon McKinley.

Godwin Igwebuike, RB: He had a 9-yard touchdown run to cap off a long drive helmed by Blough. He is still on the outs at running back, but touchdowns can do no harm.

Dan Skipper, OT: Skipper has quietly put together a solid preseason after another good performance against the Steelers. Although Tyrell Crosby is a lock, the struggles of Matt Nelson could earn him the OT4 spot.

Tom Kennedy and Javon McKinley, WR: Given the struggles of the rest of the offense, Kennedy and McKinley having success in the preseason could earn them a spot on the roster. Kennedy has been solid in the slot, and is the leading receiver so far this preseason, while McKinley notched a toe-tapping touchdown from Blough.

A.J. Parker, CB: Parker was making some plays early on, and the fact that he was on the field early bodes well for him. He recorded 7 tackles, 2 of them for a loss, and added a pass defended. At first thought of as a long shot for the nickel job, Parker is not only repping before anyone else at the position, but he’s making plays, too.

Interior defensive line: While Onwuzurike was a standout, it was an overall good performance from the inside of the defensive line. Miles Brown had a pair of stops, while Kevin Strong and Bruce Hector have put together a good preseason. John Penisini could be in trouble if he doesn’t return soon.

Randy Bullock, K: He had a perfect onside kick, but there is certainly an element of luck to that. Still, a boost for the kicking frontrunner.

Brock Wright, TE: He had a 15-yard reception, which is a major victory in the context of the tight end group.

Stock Down:

Tim Boyle, QB: An utterly awful showing for Boyle. He played the entire first half and one drive in the second, and the Lions punted on every drive. Only two of them even gained a first down, and Boyle was heavily to blame. He was off-target most of the night. He is in serious danger of losing the QB2 job.

Darren Fells, TE: Three penalties, two of them holding calls and two of them coming back-to-back, is not a good look for your primary blocking tight end. Coupled with the rest of the tight end group struggling, and there isn’t much to be excited about behind T.J. Hockenson.

Jeff Okudah, CB: He got beat on a 43-yard catch to Diontae Johnson, but it seems like Will Harris was supposed to give him some help over the top. He had a pass breakup in the end zone, but the long bomb still bites him on occasion.

Will Harris, S: It’s tough to say after only watching the game live, but it appears as though Will Harris left his defenders out to dry on a few plays that turned into big gains. Along with the long Okudah play, Reeves-Maybin seemingly expected him to be there on a touchdown to Pat Freiermuth. It will be worth a rewatch, but not promising at first glance.

Matt Nelson, OL: Nelson played all of Game 1 at guard, but shifted outside to tackle against the Steelers, the position he played last year. He was better tonight, but still had his struggles against some of the faster pass rushers. He mainly gets a stock down because Dan Skipper looked far better.

Alizé Mack, TE: He got blown up on a blocking attempt—if you can call it that—that led to a big loss. However, it did come against Melvin Ingram, so that is more of a mismatch issue.

Kick returners: Between Javon Leake, Darius Jennings, and Craig Reynolds, and the Lions kick returners weren’t accomplishing much. Given how frequently Pittsburgh was scoring, you’d hope for something positive. Not the worst, but nothing to write home about.