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Detroit Lions Week 18 rookie review: 2021 draft class finishes strong

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 18.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Let’s take a closer look at how the Detroit Lions 2021 draft class fared in their 37-30 win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 18.

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

Snap counts: 32 (47%) — 3 (11%)

Onwuzurike had a quiet day in terms of the box score, notching one tackle during his 32 defensive snaps.

Alim McNeill, DL

Snap counts: 26 (38%)

McNeill finished his rookie campaign on a high note, notching three tackles in what may have been his best game of the year.

The play below really illustrates how special McNeill can be to this defense. Bullying all-pro tackle David Bakhtiari is nothing to scoff at.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB

Snap counts: 67 (99%)

You can clearly see the progress Melifonwu has made since returning to action from an injury he sustained earlier in the year.

He continues to be a plus-tackler for the Lions, and his rep against Davante Adams, one of the best receivers in the NFL, illustrates his growth as a cover man.

(You can watch it as the third slide in this Instagram post)

On the play, quarterback Aaron Rodgers quickly realized that Adams had a one-on-one matchup with Melifonwu and cut it loose, deep down the sideline. Melifonwu remained in perfect phase with Adams, waited for Adams to begin to present his hands for the catch, got his head around and got a hand on the ball. A perfect coverage rep against the best receiver in the business right now.

Not bad for a rookie.

Melifonwu also recovered a fumble later in the game, after it was knocked out by rookie AJ Parker.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

Snap counts: 56 (95%)

I feel like we all have been singing St. Brown’s praises for a while now, and I am in no way even the slightest bit tired of it.

For being such a young player, it seems like he simply gets it. And it shows in both his production, and the manner in which he carries himself.

He is the first rookie in NFL history to catch eight passes in six straight games.

The trick play the Lions ran that resulted in a Tom Kennedy touchdown pass to Kalif Raymond was set up off the run action the Lions have been utilizing with St. Brown. The rookie receiver even said he heard someone on the Packers’ sideline say “14 is getting the ball,” prior to the trick play. Fun stuff.

He also had a score of his own, and I am personally a big fan of the dance and flex. He has earned the right to dance. As much as he damn well pleases.

Derrick Barnes, LB

Snap counts: 54 (79%) — 3 (11%)

Barnes notched his highest snap count total against the Packers and had five tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hit to show for it.

Barnes also had a really nice rep in coverage against receiver Allen Lazard, but was still beat for a score because of a brilliant throw from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

AJ Parker, CB

Snap counts: 49 (72%)

Parker continues to have issues with tackling, but has been available for most of the season for the Lions, and with all of the injuries they have suffered on the defensive side of the ball, that is something.

He registered three tackles, a pass break up, and forced the aforementioned fumble, setting up the Lions with nice field position.

Mark Gilbert, CB

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 4 (14%)

Gilbert was limited to special teams duty.

Tommy Kraemer, OL

Snap counts: 24 (41%) — 7 (25%)

Kraemer did not start the game, but was brought in once the Lions opted to move guard Jonah Jackson to center.

It seemed to stabilize things for the Lions, as they were able to run the ball more effectively down the stretch, and limited interior pressure on quarterback Jared Goff.

Ryan McCollum, OL

Snap counts: 31 (53%) — 7 (25%)

McCollum was forced into the lineup early after starting center Evan Brown suffered an ankle injury. After struggling for a couple of quarters, the team opted to go a different direction with Jackson at center and Kraemer at guard.

To be fair, McCollum is a UDFA rookie, and Kenny Clark does this to a lot of established NFL players, let alone ones without much experience in the league.

Brady Breeze, S

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 18 (64%)

Breeze continues to be a special teams staple for the Lions.

Riley Patterson, K

Snap counts: 7 (25%)

After a lot of turmoil with the kicking position during the first half of the season, Patterson has come in and been a consistent player for the Lions. The rookie kicker hit all three of his field goal attempts, and was also four of four on extra points.

Other rookies of note: OT Penei Sewell was out with a shoulder injury. CB Jerry Jacobs was placed on IR with a knee injury. RB Jermar Jefferson did not play (coach’s decision). TE Shane Zylstra is on IR with a knee injury.