Detroit Lions' offensive tackle Penei Sewell had just about everything thrown at him in his rookie season. Sewell had sat out his final year at Oregon due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving him to train and prepare for the NFL for a full year before landing on a team. When he eventually arrived in Detroit, the Lions opted to move him to right tackle—where he hadn’t played since his high school days.
“It is not that easy,” Sewell said last May. “Everybody thinks it is, but, man, it’s a whole different feel. Again, it’s like I’m right handed. I’ve been right handed my whole life, and then one day, you’re just asked to write your full name left handed at full speed. The same speed that you write with your right hand.”
Then, days before the season opener, left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a serious hand injury, forcing Sewell to undo all that muscle memory and go back to the left side. His rookie season got off to a rough start, but near the season’s end—as he moved back to right tackle, he played like the seventh overall pick is expected to play. From Week 10 to the end of the season, Sewell finished with a PFF grade of 85.7—fifth among all NFL tackles.
Now Sewell is entering 2022 with more confidence because he’s been through the NFL wringer already.
“I’m more comfortable,” Sewell said after Thursday’s organized team activity (OTA) practice. “I know what to expect, so it’s more simple now, now that I can eliminate everything else, because I know what’s going to happen during the season, OTA, camp and so forth.”
As head coach Dan Campbell always likes to remind the media, we often see players take a big Year 1 to Year 2 jump. He’s expecting exactly that with Sewell.
“We anticipate that he will be better and get a little bit better, and he’s already a pretty skillful athlete, pretty good player,” Campbell said. “But I know this, up to this point, he’s been locked in. You can see the confidence and he’s handling his business, which I appreciate.”
Part of the reason we see Year 2 jumps is that familiarity and confidence with the process. But players also get a full offseason to train for football. Whereas in the previous year, half of their offseason is spent training for the NFL Combine specifically. That was the case with Sewell last year. Instead of trying to nail the 40-yard dash, he spent his time getting stronger.
“When I was working for the combine, I’m trying to be as slim as possible, trying to run fast,” Sewell explained. “That’s not the game I play. That’s not the position I play. This offseason, it was really more position-specific and kinda getting stronger and conditioning in the trenches.”
The difference is easy to spot during OTAs. Not so much with the confidence—that attitude was there from the get-go. Thursday he was familiarly chirping at the defense and getting involved in a scrum. But Sewell’s strength has been just as apparent.
“Him, this offseason, has gotten significantly stronger, at least from what I’ve seen in the weight room,” Decker said this week.
When you combine the way Sewell finished the season with his work ethic, his more focused physical training, and the natural progression of a second-year NFL player, expectations are high for Sewell to establish himself as one of the best tackles in the game.
“100 percent,” Decker said of Sewell’s potential to make a big Year 2 jump. “I think especially down the stretch last year, he was playing great ... He’s just young. And then I think with him, and this reaches back in going into the stretch last year, he’s confident. He’s a confident player.”