Our 2023 Detroit Lions roster preview series rolls on, this time by taking a look at one of the best players on the roster—third-year right tackle Penei Sewell.
After an excellent rookie season in 2021, Sewell took his game to an entirely new level in 2022. Now heading into his third season as a pro, Sewell should be looking to cement himself as one of the premier tackles in all of football.
Expectations heading into 2022
After a rookie season that saw him move from left tackle to right tackle during the course of the year due to injuries, it was expected that Sewell would be able to settle into his home on the right side in 2022.
As someone who didn’t turn 22 years old until the second month of the 2022 season, Sewell shouldn’t reach his full potential for some time. He’s aware of how good he can possibly be, and so is his offensive line coach, Hank Fraley.
“I know he has his own goals and aspirations as an individual and he can, his ceiling’s pretty high. He’s just still tapping into it,” Fraley told reporters in October of 2022. “He’s a young player and there’s guys that, you got to challenge players like that, too. ‘How good do you want to be? Is it good or great?’ And I think he wants to be one of those great ones, but he’s far from there but he can be a great one.”
That is some lofty praise from one of the best position coaches in the game.
Actual role in 2022
17 games (17 starts): 1,142 snaps played (100% of offensive snaps)
Stats: Allowed 2 sacks and six quarterback hits on the year, per PFF
PFF offensive grade: 80.6 (10th among 66 OTs with at least 500 snaps)
PFF pass blocking grade: 74.2 (33rd of 66)
PFF run blocking grade: 83.0 (4th of 66)
PFF receiving grade: 76.3
Originally the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Sewell took another major step toward becoming one of the best players in the league in 2022. He started all 17 games for the Lions at right tackle, became a more consistent pass-blocker, and got even nastier as a run-blocker.
there were several key blocks that sprung Jamaal on his long td run, but Penei relocating Poona Ford and getting a piece of the linebacker turned this from a good run to a great run pic.twitter.com/24FqU94eDU— morgan cannon (#freeJamo) (@MCannon313) October 5, 2022
Sometimes it's difficult to remember that Sewell is still not in his prime from a physical standpoint. Especially when plays, like the ones in the video clips below, are normal for the young tackle. His strength at the point-of-attack is oftentimes otherworldly.
plenty of plays like this, but Penei is becoming an elite tackle right before our eyes. just look at how he moves 99 off of his spot here. POWA pic.twitter.com/8QJHxVXrIY— morgan cannon (#freeJamo) (@MCannon313) October 25, 2022
lol watch Penei here. stands over him afterwards— morgan cannon (#freeJamo) (@MCannon313) November 9, 2022
warms the heart pic.twitter.com/rytySaZOsa
Lions' offensive coordinator Ben Johnson found different ways to incorporate Sewell's skillset, and, at times, designed entire plays or concepts around the former University of Oregon standout.
Run behind him in a short-yardage, or goal-to-go situation? No problem.
short yardage situation, Lions need a yard. sometimes it is as simple as running behind your best player— morgan cannon (#freeJamo) (@MCannon313) November 29, 2022
also, watching Penei Sewell play football makes me happy. watch the reaction at the end when he realizes they picked up the first pic.twitter.com/n9CCOWnsAI
Get him out into space so that a ball carrier can run behind him on a screen concept? Oh, yes.
Ben Johnson stayin in Detroit to cook up more magic with these 2— morgan cannon (#freeJamo) (@MCannon313) January 18, 2023
love the design here. motion Saint across the formation, have Sewell kick out to head hunt. fun way to incorporate two of your best players on first down pic.twitter.com/FQUho60Ytd
Or maybe you want to pull him around the left side of the formation so that he can pave the way for a running back to pick up a first down? He's got you there, too.
love the design from Ben Johnson here— morgan cannon (#freeJamo) (@MCannon313) November 30, 2022
watch Penei as he pulls and takes Matt Milano for a ride to the sideline. did i mention i kinda love me some Sewell? pic.twitter.com/H20YEMyBEl
Then, in maybe my favorite play of the entire 2022 season, there was the instance in which Johnson dialed up a pass to Sewell. In a situation where the game was on the line, the Lions opted to throw the ball to their 330-pound tackle. And it worked beautifully.
In the season finale against the Green Bay Packers, the Lions again were in need of a conversion late in the game. It was second-and-17, with the Lions in Green Bay territory, looking to milk the clock down to zero and escape Lambeau with a Week 18 victory. So, what does Ben Johnson do? Dial up a play that incorporates his two best players, that's what.
In most cases, play-callers around the league would be hesitant to call a play like this, in a moment as big as the one against the Packers, but not every coach has players like Sewell and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
After a stellar second season, Sewell just narrowly missed All-Pro honors in 2022, but was named a Pro Bowler—along with St. Brown, quarterback Jared Goff, and center Frank Ragnow.
Outlook for 2023
As someone who has watched every snap of Sewell's time in Detroit, both live and on film—I can confidently say that his game has been on an upward trajectory since stepping foot in Detroit.
Early on in 2021, you saw all of the potential. And while his pass-blocking back then wasn't necessarily poor, there were moves that Sewell struggled to handle at times—at least early on. However, now that he has seen many of these moves firsthand, pass-rushers are having less success compared to when Sewell was still adapting to the NFL skill level.
spin moves were Penei's kryptonite early in his rookie season. just look at that hand placement— morgan cannon (#freeJamo) (@MCannon313) October 5, 2022
NO SOUP 4 U! pic.twitter.com/eHGuFRcXX1
His initial punch and hand placement were much cleaner in 2022 than they were in 2021, and that is a testament to Sewell's dedication to his craft. Now, with two years under his belt, his play should reach new heights in 2023.
And from an off-the-field standpoint, it may be time for Sewell to step into more of a leadership role, despite the fact that he won't turn 23 until October 9 of this year. Already widely considered to be one of the best tackles in football, Sewell plays with a fiery passion for the game and sometimes mean-streak as well. And when you approach the game like that and you're as talented as Sewell is—teammates are going to pay attention and follow your lead.
“Dan Campbell just gives us the green light—it’s your team, it’s a player-led team so whoever wants to step up and wherever the team gravitates to the most, we just ride with them,” said Sewell of stepping into more of a leadership role.
Like Sewell, expectations for the 2023 Lions are high. Many are penciling in the Lions as the winners of the NFC North, and Sewell is already considered the best player on one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Can Sewell continue to refine his pass-blocking prowess? Will Ben Johnson continue to find innovative ways to utilize his Pro Bowl right tackle's ever-developing skillset? Will this finally be the year we get to see Sewell next to a right guard that truly complements what he brings to the table? Veteran right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai is reportedly healthy after recovering from back surgery that kept him out of the entire 2022 season, and if the Lions can have him out there next to Sewell on the right side of the line—watch out. Sewell's play could very well reach a new level of dominance in 2023.