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2021 Detroit Lions awards: Rookie of the Year

Which first-year players was the Detroit Lions’ best in 2021? Vote in our poll.

San Francisco 49ers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Early returns on Brad Holmes’ first draft class appear to be somewhat promising. The Detroit Lions general manager found three immediate starters, and got rotational play out of three more players. Only one of this picks—seventh-round running back Jermar Jefferson—didn’t contribute a significant amount in 2021. While some of that speaks to the Lions’ weak roster, some of the production the Lions got out of their rookie class was undeniably impressive.

It’s time to crown the Detroit Lions’ 2021 Rookie of the Year. If we’re being honest with ourselves, this is a two-man race. Sure, players like AJ Parker, Jerry Jacobs and even kicker Riley Patterson outperformed expectations, but neither of them were quite as impressive as our two main candidates: first-round pick Penei Sewell, and fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown.

So who wins? Let’s take a look at what the Pride of Detroit staff says.

Previous awards:

Detroit Lions 2021 Rookie of the Year

Chris Perfett: Amon-Ra St. Brown

KEEP PRAISING THE SUN.

Hamza Baccouche: Penei Sewell

While St. Brown puts up a strong fight for this, playing tackle is like being thrown into the fire on a one-man island. If St. Brown has a bad day, there are still three or four other receivers to pick up the slack. If Sewell has a bad day, you’ll know it. Sewell had a rough start but overcame that for an incredibly strong second half of the season for any tackle, let alone a rookie. His emergence in the face of folks who disliked him as a draft pick (i.e. me) is highly encouraging for the years to come.

Morgan Cannon: Penei Sewell

You could make an argument that this should also be St. Brown’s award, and I wouldn’t really disagree with you. I’d also say that is a pretty good problem to have, because as good as St. Brown was during the second half of the year, Sewell was really good for about 90 percent of it. He had some hiccups earlier in the season, particularly against speed rushers with a variety of counter moves, but he adapted rapidly.

Mike Payton: Penei Sewell

Penei Sewell ws as advertised. It was a delight watching this kid live up to the hype. He played both left tackle and right tackle. When he switched to the right side full time, he became one of the better right tackles in the league for the rest of the season.

John Whiticar: Amon-Ra St. Brown

There were hopes St. Brown could step into the WR1 role sooner than later, but I doubt anyone expected St. Brown to finish his rookie season the way he did. Not only did he end up leading the team in receiving by a wide margin, but defenses had no answer for him. Had the Lions gotten him more involved early on, he could have been in the Rookie of the Year debate with Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith.

Jeremy Reisman: Penei Sewell

Amon-Ra St. Brown had the better stretch of games, but Sewell was better for longer. The difference between good and great is consistency, and for the last three months of the season, Sewell was unstoppable. From Week 7 and beyond, only seven offensive tackles graded better than Sewell per PFF.

Kellie Rowe: Penei Sewell

Selected seventh overall, the expectations were high for this rookie tackle. From the start, he was tasked with switching from right tackle to left to step in for the injured Taylor Decker. He adapted and played well. Upon Decker’s midyear return, he flipped back and played even better. Sure, there have been ups and downs, but he finished the season as PFF’s sixth-highest graded right tackle. Since the moment I saw him refuse to back down from Aaron Donald I knew he was a fit for these feisty new Lions.

Erik Schlitt: Penei Sewell

Well, he lived up to the hype and is still nowhere near his developmental ceiling. While it took a few games for him to get his feet wet after a year off, he was dominant from both tackle spots and took on all competitors with fire and aggression (hello, Aaron Donald). Rookies typically see big leaps in their play from their first to second season, and I still believe his ceiling is to one day be the best offensive tackle in the NFL. Excited to see where this goes.

Ryan Mathews: Penei Sewell

Amon-Ra St. Brown may have earned all the adulation from fans for his breakout performance over the final six games of the season, but Penei Sewell defied expectations throughout his first season in the NFL. Plenty of people thought they had what was best for Sewell’s development in mind when the team needed him to switch sides in the wake of Taylor Decker’s injury. Many thought it wasn’t smart for the team to move him to the left side when the team needed him at right tackle moving forward... until he played so well on the left side people thought Decker was expendable. Then, when Decker returned, Sewell seamlessly transitioned back to the right side and finished the season as a top-25 tackle in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. Not bad for a 21-year-old who decided to box with God halfway into his rookie season.

Poll

Who was the Lions’ Rookie of the Year?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Penei Sewell
    (1637 votes)
  • 22%
    Amon-Ra St. Brown
    (489 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (19 votes)
2145 votes total Vote Now