The Detroit Lions took the player widely regarded as the best offensive lineman in this year’s NFL draft when they selected Penei Sewell with the No. 7 overall pick on Thursday.
But Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said Sewell’s ultimate ceiling is something much higher.
“He’s a generational player,” Cristobal said in a video conference with Detroit reporters Friday. “I haven’t seen one like him and I’ve been very fortunate. Man, I’ve been blessed beyond measure at the places I’ve been able to coach at and the players I’ve been able to work with and be a part of, a small part of. And this one just, he’s different. Different level.”
Sewell won the starting left tackle job as a 17-year-old true freshman at Oregon and the Outland Trophy given to the nation’s best lineman as a sophomore.
As a freshman, Sewell was so impressive that Cristobal said veteran left guard Shane Lemieux, who started nine games as a rookie for the New York Giants last season, showed up at his office three or four practices into camp and said, ‘Coach, I want to play beside Penei Sewell,'”
“He was launching guys off the field into the back of the end zone,” Cristobal recalled. “Usually when you get that knock, ‘Hey, coach you got a minute?’ It’s good or it’s not so good. And Shane’s a grinder. Shane’s a great one, too. Going to play for a long, long time. And he just talked about how comfortable he was, how confident he was that if they were playing side by side, how they could change things, how we could become a much more physically dominant offensive line.”
The Lions are counting on Sewell to bring that same physicality and dominance to their offensive line this fall, albeit at a different position.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes said late Thursday that Sewell will start his NFL career at right tackle. Taylor Decker, who starts a four-year contract extension this fall, returns on the left side.
Sewell spent part of the pre-draft process training at right tackle in anticipation of a potential position switch. He has not taken a snap at right tackle since high school, but Cristobal said the transition shouldn’t be an issue.
‘FEED THE BEAST’: Why the Lions and Oregon OT Penei Sewell are a perfect fit
“He will impress you right away with his ability to adapt and make a transition,” Cristobal said.
Holmes said he was drawn to Sewell in the pre-draft process by his toughness, tenacity, grit and quick feet. He called Sewell a “transcendent talent,” though some NFL scouts and analysts favored Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater as the draft’s best tackle.
Brian Baldinger, a former NFL offensive lineman turned analyst, posted a video breakdown of Sewell’s play on Twitter in March in which he noted Sewell was inconsistent against some of the top defensive linemen he faced.
And two unnamed scouts called Sewell “overrated” and “not a really good finisher” in a piece in the Athletic.
Cristobal said those critiques are way off base.
“It’s probably the same scouts that doubted (former Oregon quarterback) Justin Herbert last year and he turned out to be (Offensive) Rookie of the Year,” Cristobal said. “We shoot straight here at Oregon. We have a very structured, disciplined and regimented program. So when someone leaves here, a product form the University of Oregon, from our football program, they know what it takes.”