Week 2 of the 2021 regular season is completed and for the Detroit Lions’ nine rookies, it was a mixed bag of participation levels. Five were counted on to start, one was inactive, and another was strangely left on the bench despite the rest of his position group struggling.
Let’s take a closer look at the Lions' rookies and how they fared against the Green Bay Packers on the national stage.
Penei Sewell, LT
Another start at left tackle and another performance that will make the decision of where to play him after Taylor Decker returns harder. Sewell is still going to make rookie mistakes—like his untimely holding call—but the upside is legitimate. If his play continues to ascend, the more games he gets on the left side, the harder it’s likely to be to move him.
Levi Onwuzurike, DL
Only 10 snaps in his NFL debut for Onwuzurike, and he failed to register any significant plays. As he continues to return to full health, he gets a pass for dull performance, but if he wants to see his playing time increase, he will need to find a way to make more splash plays.
Alim McNeill, NT
McNeill continues to start at nose tackle and while he is holding his own at the NFL level, the dominance he flashed in camp has not quite shown up yet. You can see it flickering on certain plays, and it feels like he is right on the edge of breaking out, but he’s still not there just yet.
Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB
Melifonwu got the start in place of injured Jeff Okudah, looking very comfortable and confident in the 30 snaps he played. But a significant thigh injury has landed him on injured reserve and he will likely be out for a while.
“First of all, man, I thought the kid did some good things, I really did, man,” coach Dan Campbell said on Tuesday. “It’s a step in the right direction. I thought he went out and competed. I feel bad for him. He’s going to be down for a little while. He’s going to be down for a significant amount of time and so certainly won’t have him for at least a couple of weeks, if not more.”
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR
St. Brown also started for the second consecutive game, but like most of the Lions rookies, we have yet to see a lot of impactful plays, outside of a few nasty blocks. Through two games, St. Brown has been targeted nine times, but he has only had five catches for 41 yards and zero touchdowns.
The most surprising stat though is St. Brown’s yards after catch (YAC): One.
We need more of that swagger we saw in training camp.
Derrick Barnes, LB
Speaking of strange stats, Barnes had zero defensive snaps on Monday night, despite Alex Anzalone and Jamie Collins struggling to make plays.
On Tuesday, Campbell praised Anzalone, acknowledged Collins struggled, and recognized—to the delight of Lions fans everywhere—”I think Barnes deserves a shot.”
“A.G. (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) and I, we’ve already—like last night we spoke about it a little bit,” Campbell said of Barnes seeing the field. “This morning we did (again), and we’ve just been game planning just trying to get everything down, because we’ve got the players in tomorrow, but tonight we’re going to sit down and really say, ‘Alright, this is how we want to handle it.’ So, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself as to exactly what it’s going to look like yet.”
If you’re reading the tea leaves, it sure looks like Collins is going to be the linebacker ceding snaps.
Justin Jefferson, RB
Jefferson also saw zero snaps, but that was because he was inactive for the second week in a row. Two factors are keeping him from playing: a healthy two running back tandem of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, and his lack of contributions on special teams, which is why Godwin Igwebuike is active (as a kick returner).
It’s going to likely take an injury to one of the two starters or Igwebuike to lose his return job before Jefferson can make his debut.
AJ Parker, NB
Two starts at nickel corner and Parker looks incredibly comfortable and natural on the big stage. After two games, Parker has the second-highest PFF grade among rookie corners:
Highest-graded #NFL rookie CBs pic.twitter.com/IH5c31EB74— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 22, 2021
He may arguably be the Lions' second-best rookie—behind Sewell— so far.
Jerry Jacobs, CB
Jacobs saw his first three defensive snaps of his career on Monday, and he, unfortunately, committed a penalty on one of them. Better days are ahead for the undrafted rookie, and the Lions sure look like they may need him sooner rather than later.