Why Detroit Lions and Oregon OT Penei Sewell are a perfect fit: ‘Feed the beast’

Detroit Free Press

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CLEVELAND – They hired a blocking tight end who will bite off your kneecaps as head coach and gave play-calling duties to an ex-running back whose last offense led the league in rushing, so when it came to fits, there were not many better in this year’s NFL draft than Penei Sewell and the Detroit Lions.

The Lions made Sewell the No. 7 pick of Thursday’s first round, taking him over two sliding quarterbacks, a Heisman Trophy-winning receiver and every defensive player eligible.

It’s possible the Lions will regret passing on Justin Fields, Mac Jones or someone else, especially since they will see Fields twice a year in the NFC North, now that he plays for the Chicago Bears.

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But Sewell, in the eyes of most, was one of the three best non-quarterbacks in the draft, and he gives the Lions not one but five foundational pieces to build around.

“He’s going to be an integral and an impactful piece to our franchise going forward for years to come,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said. “He’s going to be a great addition to our offensive line. He’s just a transcendent talent. I can’t quite remember a guy that had feet like him in a long time, but it’s not just the athletic ability. He’s got the toughness, he’s got the grit, he’s got the strength, he’s got the intangibles that we’re looking for.”

I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating with Round 1 in the books: There are dozens of ways to win in the NFL. None of them are surefire, but most revolve around having elite players, elite units or both.

In drafting Sewell, the Lions fortified an offensive line that already was their greatest strength and has a real chance now to become one of the NFL’s elite groups.

Taylor Decker, a first-round pick in 2016, is entrenched at left tackle and coming off the best season of his career. Frank Ragnow, a first-rounder in 2018, made his first Pro Bowl last fall and is one of the top centers in the game. Jonah Jackson was the best, most consistent member of the Lions’ 2020 rookie class. And the Lions return two other linemen, in Tyrell Crosby and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who started at least 10 games last year.

Decker, Ragnow, Jackson and Crosby are all 27 or younger and in, or approaching, the prime of their careers.

Sewell, who turns 21 in October, will play right tackle for the Lions this fall and should be able to slide into a starting spot on a veteran offensive line without feeling the pressure of having to be the next Anthony Munoz.

“Wherever they put me I’m going to play and I’m going to give it all, 100%,” Sewell said Thursday. “It don’t matter to me. And to join a room like this, man, it’s a blessing. To be a young dude to come into such a veteran group again with so many years, it’s just easier for me to approach the game cause I could go to them and ask them for advice and soak up as much knowledge as possible. So just being a sponge around those guys will help me out tremendously.”

SEE FOR YOURSELF: Penei Sewell’s Oregon highlights

As good as he is, Sewell is not a near-flawless prospect on the level of Trevor Lawrence or Kyle Pitts. Some scouts questioned his maturity and favored the safer Rashawn Slater as the draft’s best tackle.

But he’s 20 years old; no offensive lineman in this draft — or the last two, for that matter —comes close to having his upside.

“Man, to be honest, I haven’t even started yet,” Sewell said. “That’s how I feel. I feel like there’s a lot to do, there’s a lot to be done and, yeah, sky’s the limit. And I’m ready to tap into that potential and I’m ready to go to work to fill that dream.”

Sewell started in the Pac-12 as a 17-year-old true freshman, won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman as a sophomore, then opted out of last season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, he referenced the temperament Holmes spoke about — and that the Lions fell in love with — when he said he’s “ready to get under somebody’s chin and make them feel uncomfortable.”

Just as I thought the Lions would have been an ideal landing spot for precocious North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance (who went third overall to the San Francisco 49ers) because of the patience they can afford this season, the same holds true for Sewell.

Decker and Ragnow are consummate pros who will do their part to teach Sewell about the game and life in the NFL, and that was appealing to Holmes.

[ Lions went crazy when they drafted Penei Sewell, fans and draft experts agree ]

“I think it’s a great situation,” Holmes said. “We have enough veteran players in that room that can really provide guidance to Penei. He just has to be himself. He’s not under any pressure to be this or that. He just has to come in and we’ll allow him to develop and evolve to the position and to the unit.”

Building a potentially elite offensive line was appealing to Holmes, too. He and Lions coach Dan Campbell identified that unit as a strength early in their tenure together and given the opportunity to ensure it remains on Thursday was too good to pass up.

“To be able to, let’s just say, feed the beast and add to that strength and just make it an even more powerful unit,” Holmes said. “That’s really what it came down to.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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