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Detroit Lions Week 17 rookie review: 2021 draft class takes their lumps vs. Seahawks

Examining how the Lions 2021 rookie class performed in Week 17.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a closer look at how the Detroit Lions 2021 draft class fared in their 51-29 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17.

Penei Sewell, OL

Snap counts: 63 (100%)

Even though he is one of the younger players in the NFL, Sewell continues to be a pillar of dependability for the Lions during his rookie campaign. Per PFF, he didn’t allow a single pressure on 38 drop backs for quarterback Tim Boyle.

Sewell also is a tone setter, often displaying a bit of a nasty streak when the Lions run the football. Getting to watch he and All-Pro center Frank Ragnow play on the same line next year is going to be a treat.

Levi Onwuzurike, DL

Snap counts: 36 (50%) — 9 (28%)

Once the season is over and we (hopefully) have access to the coach’s film, I plan on diving into some of these games where the Lions had zero success in stopping the run. Games like the one in Seattle, where it looked like the Lions’ defensive line was getting knocked back a yard or two every time the Seahawks handed the ball off.

The Lions have had a couple of games this season where they have essentially been ran over, and that is concerning—even in year one of a rebuild.

With veteran Michael Brockers out, Onwuzurike moved up the pecking order in terms of playing time. He finished with three tackles on a day that this young defense as a whole needs to review, learn from, and move past. Head coach Dan Campbell said on Monday this has to be a valuable learning experience for the young players.

“It better be. It’s gotta be. It can’t be in vain, I know that,” Campbell said.

Alim McNeill, DL

Snap counts: 39 (54%)

In their failed attempt to stop the Seattle running game, the Lions opted to go heavy inside, which meant more snaps for rookie nose tackle Alim McNeill.

And despite the defense’s collective showing, McNeill finished with four tackles, and was the second-highest graded Lions defender with a 75.8 defensive grade, per PFF.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB

Snap counts: 72 (100%) — 10 (31%)

Back-to-back tough weeks for the rookie corner—first drawing record-setting tight end Kyle Pitts in Atlanta, and then a frustrated D.K. Metcalf in Seattle.

Neither game went particularly well for Melifonwu, but that is to be expected for an inexperienced corner who missed a good chunk of his rookie season with a thigh injury.

How he bounces back in the season finale against the Green Bay Packers will be interesting.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

Snap counts: 53 (84%)

At this point, I’m not sure words can do what St. Brown is currently doing justice.

Myself and many others had high expectations for the fourth-round receiver, but over the last month or so, he has blown those out of the water. And when you are on the kind of tear St. Brown is currently on, you break records.

Even in a 51-29 loss, St. Brown gives you things to get excited about. The future is truly bright for the sun god.

Derrick Barnes, LB

Snap counts: 40 (56%) — 13 (41%)

Another instance of needing to see the all-22 film, but again, at first glance, nobody in the front seven played particularly well for the Lions.

While it was good to see Barnes get the second most snaps among the linebacker unit, the product of said snaps left a lot to be desired.

AJ Parker, CB

Snap counts: 50 (69%)

Parker has definitely taken his share of bumps and bruises during his trial by fire of a rookie season. But in a year when injuries have torn through the Lions’ secondary at an unprecedented pace, at least he has been reliable from an availability standpoint.

And for at least one more week, he will be the starting nickel corner for the Lions.

Parker finished the game against Seattle with four total tackles.

Mark Gilbert, CB

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 1 (3%)

Limited special teams duty only for Gilbert.

Tommy Kraemer, OL

Snap counts: 63 (100%) — 4 (12%)

Another silver lining Lions fans can take away from this injury riddled year is the potential depth players they may have uncovered in the process.

Players like center Evan Brown and now, UDFA rookie Tommy Kraemer out of Notre Dame have performed adequately, considering the league-wide issue of backup offensive line play as a whole.

It should also give players like Kraemer a decent chance at being on the 2022 roster.

Ryan McCollum, OL

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 4 (12%)

Limited special teams duty only for McCollum.

Brady Breeze, S

Snap counts: 0 (0%) — 25 (78%)

Breeze continues to see a big workload on special teams.

Riley Patterson, K

Snap counts: 6 (19%)

I won’t hold the miss against Patterson too much. A 55-yard field goal in the rain and cold is nothing to scoff at.

I will be more interested to see what a kick of that length would look like in the friendly, climate controlled, confines of Ford Field.

Other rookies of note: CB Jerry Jacobs was placed on IR with a knee injury. RB Jermar Jefferson did not play (coach’s decision). TE Brock Wright was placed on reserve/COVID and TE Shane Zylstra is on IR with a knee injury.