Detroit Lions’ Penei Sewell pick an example of outdated thinking in team-building

Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Lions have gaping holes all over their roster.

They have a horrible defense — one of the worst in franchise history.

And they desperately need playmakers.

The team’s singular strength? A young, solid offensive line, mainly because it’s the one place where they have already poured money and first-round draft picks.

So what did they do in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday?

They took another offensive lineman, drafting Oregon tackle Penei Sewell with the No.7 pick.

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I love the player — Sewell is the top offensive lineman in this draft. And he has the potential to be great. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted out: “One NFL head coach called Lions’ first-round pick Penei Sewell ‘the one surefire Hall of Famer in this draft class.'”

Like I said, there is no doubt he’s a talented player.

But nothing happens in a vacuum.

And the Lions have already addressed their line.

Building from the trenches is an outdated way of thinking; I question how much draft capital the Lions have now devoted to it. The Lions will roll out an offensive line that features three first rounders: Sewell, tackle Taylor Decker (the 16th pick in 2016) and Frank Ragnow (No. 20 in 2018).

Yes, you need a good offensive line to do anything in the NFL.

And you can argue that building up the line makes the entire offense better. And it does.

But I’m talking about stepping back and thinking about team building. And you don’t need to stack an offensive line with future Hall of Famers — or even first-rounders — to get to the playoffs. In fact, the majority of teams don’t do that. Last year, only two of 14 playoff teams featured an offensive line with three first-rounders: the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts.

Ten teams had one first rounder — or none —, including the two teams in the Super Bowl: Tampa Bay (one) and Kansas City (one).

What’s the lesson?

The best teams use those first round picks elsewhere.

Like getting playmakers.

Or getting studs on defense. Instead of devoting another first round pick to the line —no matter how good Sewell might be — the Lions could have drafted cornerback Jaycee Horn, who was taken by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 8 pick. They could have taken Patrick Surtain II, a cornerback from Alabama taken No.9 by Denver.

So don’t tell me there weren’t top-10-worthy defenders in this draft.

Either one of those corners would have improved the defense instantly.

But now, Carolina has an outstanding corner.

And so does Denver.

Meanwhile, the Lions just poured more resources into the line.

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If the Lions had gaping holes on the offensive line, I would understand it.

But they don’t. And they didn’t need to do this to become a playoff team, or even win the Super Bowl.

Of the last 10 Super Bowl winners, not one had more than one first-round draft pick on its starting offensive line.

Going into this draft, we didn’t know how Lions general manager Brad Holmes would build his team.

In many ways, this draft is revealing.

So what do we know now?

The Lions didn’t go for a quarterback. When the Lions selected, Mac Jones and Justin Fields were still there. And one day, they may regret that.

That solidifies what we thought about Jared Goff. He is the Lions quarterback — at least for the next two years.

They didn’t go for a wide receiver, which makes sense. That solidifies what we have thought all along — you can get a wide receiver in later rounds.

And they didn’t go for a defensive player.

Obviously, the draft isn’t over. And the Lions will certainly address the defense in later rounds.

But they could have taken an offensive lineman in the second round, too.

And that just makes me uneasy.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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