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Detroit Lions Week 3 rookie review: Derrick Barnes earns his first start

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 3.

Baltimore Ravens v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

As the weeks roll on, the Detroit Lions’ rookie class continues to get more and more playing time. Heading into their Week 3 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, five rookies held starting roles, as Derrick Barnes made his debut as the Lions’ first-team linebacker.

Let’s take a closer look at the Lions’ rookies and how they fared against the Ravens.

Penei Sewell, LT

63 snaps (100 percent)

There are times Sewell looks very much like a rookie that didn't play football in 2020. Then there are others when he dominates NFL players in ways a 20-year-old shouldn’t be able to do and it illustrates his long-term upside and potential—especially in the running game:

But expectations are high for the seventh-overall pick, and while his run blocking is on point, he still needs to improve some things in his pass sets. Too often, he is getting high and losing leverage, or slightly off his spot. This will get cleaned up with experience and as he reacclimates to football, but there’s more good than bad, a lot more, and that’s encouraging.

“Look, there were some really good things done in the run game by him yesterday,” coach Dan Campbell said on Monday. “I thought he really – you can see that he and Jonah (Jackson) are working together. He can be a road grader. Now, I would say that’s not his best performance after a three-week period. I expect more from him. I expect him to be better than he was. Now, was it bad? No, it wasn’t bad, but I hold him to high standards, too. I hold that whole group to high standards. So, I expect more. There are some things that got on the edge a little bit, but he’ll be better for it.”

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

14 snaps (24 percent)

The Lions leaned on their veteran defensive tackles in this game as reading Baltimore’s offensive run keys is a challenging task. Both Michael Brockers and Nick Williams saw over 72 percent of defensive snaps, leaving Onwuzurike only a handful of opportunities to make his mark. It still feels like he is acclimating to the NFL, and the coaches may very well be protecting him from injury (they identified a back injury from college they were worried about) and limiting his snaps.

Alim McNeill, NT

13 snaps (22 percent)

The Lions leaned on their EDGE rushers, as well as nickel and dime sets in the secondary, and that meant less need for a nose tackle. Instead of trying to plug up the middle with McNeill, the Lions opted to try and contain Lamar Jackson. And for the most part, it worked. Outside of a 31-yard scramble, Jackson only rushed six times for 27 yards.

McNeill’s going to continue to be heavily involved throughout the season, as they face several other teams with run-heavy offenses, but there will also be games like this where he sees a reduction in opportunities.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB

The third-round pick was placed on injured reserve ahead of last week’s game. He will be eligible to return in Week 6, but his thigh injury is considered serious and he may be out some time.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

27 snaps (43 percent)

One target, two yards. We still aren’t seeing the St. Brown we saw in camp and it’s not entirely clear why. Jared Goff seems most comfortable throwing to his tight ends and running backs, then there have been some designed plays built-in for Kalif Raymond and St. Brown is left with the leftovers. He’s talented enough coaches may need to start finding ways to get him more involved.

Derrick Barnes, LB

28 snaps (48 percent)

Well, fans got their wish this week and Barnes got the start, though he split reps close to even with Jalen Reeves-Maybin. He struggled in coverage, as many anticipated, but his tackling was on point and his speed brings a different element to the game.

“Without watching the tape, I thought they (inside linebackers) showed up,” Campbell said following the game. “I thought they were making plays up and down the field. I thought Barnes was solid. He was certainly – you could feel him, his presence out there and him running things down. And I thought Reeves (Maybin) was steady, as well as (Alex) Anzalone.”

It’s hard to say for certain, but it looked like Anzalone could “feel” Barnes on the field as well, and he played with more confidence in his assignments.

Jermar Jefferson, RB

The Lions’ seventh-round pick was inactive once again. He had yet to make his rookie debut.

AJ Parker, NB

30 snaps (52 percent)

Parker came back down to earth bit in this game. Jackson targeted a receiver Parker had in coverage just three times in this game, but Parker allowed two of them to be completed for 60 yards. He’s still exceeding expectations by a large margin, but he’s also an UDFA rookie and this is going to happen to him from time to time.

Jerry Jacobs, CB

0 snaps on defense, 13 snaps (43 percent) on special teams

Jacobs is probably going to remember this game not because of how the game ended, but because it was his mistake that drew a flag and cost the team a turnover in the red zone. When Campbell was asked about how one play can change a game, he cited Jacobs’ penalty as an example.

“For example, we got a turnover and we punt it, and (Jason) Cabinda does a hell of a job knocking that ball out, we got a penalty,” Campbell said on Monday. “We just ran out of bounds and we got a simple flag. Just because of something like that, we get a takeaway taken away. We’d be down in the red zone with our offense and it cost us.”

Better days are ahead for the UDFA, and without speculating too much about a social media post, he seems to be in the right state of mind.

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