As a first-year general manager for the Detroit Lions, Brad Holmes hit a home run in the 2021 NFL Draft assembling the pieces for his first rookie class. They saw immediate returns from a few players that are already considered to be a part of the team’s core as they continue their rebuild, while others still have plenty to prove.
Today’s Question of the Day is...
Which Lions 2021 rookie is primed for a breakout year in 2022?
Let’s take a glance at our options:
- OT Penei Sewell: Had a fantastic year filling in for Taylor Decker at left tackle and then moving back to the right side when Decker returned.
- DT Levi Onwuzurike: Largely considered to be the biggest disappointment of the bunch, but was notably playing through a serious injury which likely limited his development in Year 1. Also should benefit from the Lions switching their defense to more of an attacking scheme.
- DT Alim McNeill: Played in all 17 games. Totaled 39 tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for a loss. Was arguably the Lions’ best interior defensive lineman, but still has plenty more to prove.
- CB Ifeatu Melifonwu: Missed a large portion of the season due to a quad injury, but outperformed expectations when he was healthy. Could either start in 2022 or be one of the main reserves.
- WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: Significantly outperformed expectations in Year 1 with 90 receptions on 119 targets, 912 receiving yards, and six total touchdowns. Should continue to be the Lions’ starting slot receiver.
- LB Derrick Barnes: Showed a lot of promise during the preseason, but struggled overall along with the rest of the Lions defense. Will likely have plenty of opportunities to see the field in his sophomore year and should benefit from a year of experience plus an improved defensive line in front of him.
- RB Jermar Jefferson: Didn’t see much action last year, and that might also be the case for Year 2 unless the Lions run into a couple of injuries at the RB position.
- CB Jerry Jacobs: Was one of the Lions’ best defensive backs as an undrafted free agent and should stick with the team and fight for reps in 2022.
- TE Brock Wright: 12 receptions, 117 yards and two touchdowns in 2021. Could stick as a TE2 or TE3.
- K Riley Patterson: I mean we’ve got to give him his fair shot, right? Stepped in as an undrafted kicker after being cut by the Patriots and Vikings and knocked down 13 of 14 field goal attempts.
- OL Tommy Kraemer: Fringe player that stepped in at left and right guard due to injuries. Played 6 games.
- CB Mark Gilbert: Has some work to do if he wants to make the team and see playing time. Was made an active member of the roster after being picked up off waivers from the Steelers in October.
My answer: Levi Onwuzurike.
The Lions did not do much to add to the interior defensive line this offseason and I think that’s because they still really like what they have in McNeill and Onwuzurike.
As mentioned before, Onwuzurike was playing through a back injury last year which is likely a big reason why he did not perform as well as expected. With the Lions moving to a more attacking-style pass rush, he could benefit the most as that fits his playing style. I expect him to make the biggest jump from this list of sophomores, but I would also give honorable mentions to Melifonwu and Derrick Barnes, while I expect continued success from Sewell and St. Brown.