The preseason is officially over and we have one more overreaction for you. This one is a doozy. The Lions went 0-3 during the preseason and it was hard to glean much from what we saw considering barely any starters played more than two drives. The good news is we got to see plenty from the rookies, and what we saw was generally positive.
Derrick Barnes was the superstar of the preseason. He was just all over the place, racking up pass breakups, tackles for loss and even a sack. He graded out at 83.8 over the course of three preseason grades. He looked like a guy that was a flat out steal and someone who is likely to be a starter earlier than anyone would have predicted.
Levi Onwuzurike had a great showing, too. He graded out at 84.5. The second-round pick looked like a guy that will get plenty of playing time in his rookie season. Finally, Alim McNeill got some rave reviews from defensive line coach Todd Wash that point to him being the Lions’ starting nose tackle in 2021.
On offense, Amon-Ra St. Brown may be the best of the bad situation that is the Lions receiving corps. At the very least, he should be expected to be a long-term piece to the Lions’ plans at that spot. Jermar Jefferson had some flashes during camp and in Friday’s game against the Colts as well. He’s the favorite for the Lions’ third running back spot.
Pretty much all of the Lions rookies have looked pretty good... except the one the team took with the draft’s seventh pick. Penei Sewell has struggled during the preseason. PFF gave him a 38.6 grade on 60 total preseason snaps. What’s worse is that he graded out at 27—yes, 27—in pass blocking. He nearly got Tim Boyle killed against the Colts.
Did the Lions make a mistake taking Penei Sewell with the seventh pick? It has to be something going through your mind right now, especially when you look at how much he’s struggled and how bad the Lions’ receiving corps is. Maybe the Lions should have taken DeVonta Smith instead? Or are we going to be looking back on this draft years from now and wonder what could have been with Justin Fields? I’m not sure what other way they should have went, but the way they did just doesn't feel good at the moment.
Many Lions fans have been protective over the pick, which is understandable. They don’t want this to be wrong. I get that. The common excuse for Sewell’s struggles is that he hasn’t played football since 2019, and he’s changing from left to right tackle. Just look at what former NFL tackle George Foster had to say about Sewell:
There’s a ton of muscle memory involved with playing OL. You do the same movements over and over. Most guys are gonna take a good while, before they can pass set the same at the opposite side as they did on their primary side. Your feet and hands are in reverse. It’s HARD— FOST (@GeorgeFoster72) August 28, 2021
I can understand why that feels like something that could excuse his play, but at the same time you’re saying this kid hasn’t faced any athletic competition in two years and the Lions took him seventh overall? And then forced him to switch positions? Isn’t that a bit too risky for the seventh overall pick? What if he peaked two years ago? Concern about Sewell being a bust is warranted.
Now that we have these concerns out in the world, let me tell you why it could be fine. Sewell has indeed struggled, but he’s also playing a new position and he’s super young. It’s easy to forget that Sewell was a 17-year-old freshman at Oregon in 2018. He’s only 20 now, and he’s got plenty of time to adjust to life on the right side. And given where the rest of this roster is at, there’s no urgency for him to be good right away. Let him learn.
There’s a long way to go for Sewell. He’ll be the Lions starter at right tackle immediately and he should be. It’s going to be a sink or swim situation for him. My guess is that he’ll start swimming at about mid season. From there, Sewell should continue to trend upwards and be the guy Lions fans hoped he could be. At the very least, he should be a serviceable starter for a long time. As for now, he’s shown that he’s going to be a project and patience is going to be the key.