If you’re a Detroit Lions fan, you should extremely excited right now. For the first time in a while there is legit optimism, and not the fake snake oil salesman optimism that we had at the beginning of the Quinn/Patricia era. Since becoming the new General Manager, Brad Holmes has pretty much done everything right. From the haul we got from the Stafford trade, the hiring of his coaching staff, to the resigning of Romeo Okwara, a few smart FA signings like Jamal Williams, and now just completely crushing the 2021 Draft, I’m very impressed.
Many regarded Penei Sewell as one of the top-2 OVERALL players in the draft, not just at his position, and he fell to the Lions at #7. Safe to say it might be the smartest 1st round pick has taken in 11 years since they took Stafford and Calvin. Holmes could’ve been influenced to take a sexy pick like DeVonta Smith, but he took the best player on the board while knowing football games are won in the trenches and you can get great WR value in the later rounds. He continued the building the team from the inside out with his next two draft picks. Levi Onwuzurike, the DT of out UDub, was considered by many to be a first round talent.
He opted out of the 2020 season and has some issues with consistently, but he’s projected to be a better pro than college player as he will play more to the outside instead of nose tackle, which he was forced to do while at Washington. He also has an insane motor off the line and you can just tell from his comments after being drafted that he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with:
The next pick for Holmes was Alim McNeill, the NT out of NC State. Some might question taking two defensive lineman back to back, especially with the need at WR, but he was one of the best players available on the board and I have no qualms about building up our talent in the trenches when it’s a complete rebuild. Not to mention he’s also a complete freak for his size:
I’m not one of those guys who puts that much into PFF grades, but they did give him a rating of 90.7 for the 2020 season, which is at least something. He will provide much needed help the to run-defense. Also, in high school he played RB & LB, which is a tribute to how athletic he is:
Next, the Lions drafted the Syracuse corner Ifeatu Melifonwu. This was another case of Holmes going with one of the best players on the board. Many had him going in the second round, so getting him at pick #101 is great value, which is something that you can never pass up when drafting.
He’s a tall, long, long, rangy corner (similar to Oruwariye) who’s also physical and can tackle. He’ll be a great asset to matchup against bigger receivers both on the outside and in the slot. He has a high ceiling and it’ll be fun to see how he and the rest of the young CB room develop under new DC Aaron Glenn. For those who don’t know, Glenn was a 3x Pro Bowl corner himself and recently while coaching for the Saints made great progress with their young defensive backs Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, & Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Then, Holmes finally addressed the WR position in the fourth round the USC standout Amon-Ra St. Brown. I can’t overstate how much I LOVE this pick. Coming out of high school, St. Brown was the #3 prospect OVERALL behind guess who, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. He’s a technician as a route-runner, which to me is the best trait to have as a receiver in the pros. Not only can he create his own separation with his footwork but he can win the 1v1 jump balls in the red zone.
Amon-Ra scored 7 TD’s in just six games with the shortened Pac12 schedule in 2020 after posting up a 1,000-yard season in 2019. He is the perfect WR for Jared Goff, as everyone saw the success he had in LA with the likes of Robert Woods & Cooper Kupp who are similar receivers in terms of their route running ability and allowing the Goff to get the ball out quickly and in space to make plays.
The Lions then traded up to the very next pick at 113 to address their need at LB with Derrick Barnes out of Purdue. He was lined up as an edge outside linebacker most of the early part of his college career before being switched to inside linebacker in 2020, so he has versatility as both a pass rusher and off the ball linebacker. He’s very physical and plays mean, which has been a common theme for the 2021 Lions draft pick and fits in perfectly with the new mentality that Dan Campbell is trying to instill in Detroit. He’s great at quickly reading holes in the run game and flowing up quickly to the line in pursuit to make the play, unlike Jarrad Davis:
With their last pick in the 2021 draft, the Lions selected Jermar Jefferson, the running back out of Oregon State. Jermar has good vision with patience as he reads holes to excel in a zone run scheme, similar to Le’Veon Bell. He runs with power but at the same time has the big-play ability to take it to the house:
Jefferson in 2020 was a 1st-team All-Pac12 and the Pac12 co-offensive player of the year. Against arch-rival Orgeon this year, he exploded for 226 yards and 2 tuddies, including one for 82 yards. He averaged 143 ypg this year in 6 games with the shortened Pac12 schedule, which was fourth best in college football, while also putting up a career high of 6.5 ypc which is a positive development in his pass-catching abilities that he’s not known for. Jefferson put put up just 658 rushing yards & 8 TD’s in 9 games in 2019 while being hampered by injuries but in 2018 he was a Freshman All-American and Pac12 Freshman of the Year as he put up 1380 rushing yards & 12 TD’s. The main reason for his drop in the draft was the pedestrian results that he put up on his Pro Day. He’s definitely an intriguing player and wouldn’t be surprised if he has a decent pro career, but with the current Lions RB room, I’m not sure how much impact he’ll be able to make on the active roster with Swift, Kerryon, & Jamal ahead of him and with UDFAs Rakeem Boyd (former Last Chance U star) and Dedrick Mills vying for carries in training camp. Either way you can’t have enough running backs in the stable and we only used the third to last pick in the entire draft on Jefferson so it’s a nice low-risk/high-reward lottery ticket.
I talk more about Boyd, Mills, and the rest of the UDFA’s the we signed in another blog shortly. But overall you can’t hate on Brad Holmes’ first draft in Detroit. He got great value on the majority of his picks with taking the best player available while still addressing clear needs for the team.