Normally, when a rebuilding team passes on a quarterback in the first round and waits until Day 3 to get a flashy, offensive weapon, the national audience shows their disapproval. But it appears most experts were happy with the Lions’ trench-warfare approach.
It’s worth noting that draft grades tend to be inflated every year. Either in an attempt to please fanbases for clicks or an altered grading scale—as Kent Lee Platte likes to say, most people grade on an A-through-C scale—everyone tends to at least average a decent grade.
But even when compared to the rest of the NFL, the Detroit Lions’ draft class stands out as especially well-respected.
Rene Bugner took the average of 18 high-profile draft grades and averaged them out for each team. The result: The Lions are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the seventh-best draft class in the NFL.
2021 NFL Draft Team Grades
I combined 18 evaluations for GPA incl:
Doug Farrar & Mark Schofield
Mel Kiper Jr
Thanks guys pic.twitter.com/vM6OnVl4aK
— René Bugner (@RNBWCV) May 2, 2021
Obviously, it’s not great to see the Chicago Bears at the top of the list here, but Detroit’s overall GPA of 3.47 is actually second best in the entire NFC.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the praises and criticisms of Detroit’s draft.
Biggest fans of the Lions draft
“The Lions put together the most on-brand, build-through-the-trenches type of draft imaginable. This group has big bite-your-kneecaps energy: Sewell is a dominant tackle who plays with a glass-eater mentality; Onwuzurike and McNeill are both brawling interior defensive linemen; Melifonwu has elite size; and Barnes is an athletic and rangy hitter at linebacker.”
“Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, and Alim McNeill are maulers who will insert a nasty, physical culture for a Lions roster ushering in a new era of football.”
“One of the standout classes of this entire draft was the Detroit Lions. The selection of Penei Sewell over a skill position player raised eyebrows. However, they then went and addressed that with Amon-Ra St. Brown at a great value. Almost every selection by the Lions seemed to be met with praise.”
“In all seven picks, the Lions took a prospect in a slot that was lower than where I had him ranked on my board — the ever-rare zero-reach draft with a full complement of picks. The Lions managed to do that while addressing all of their needs save arguably quarterback.”
“The Detroit Lions are, perhaps predictably, building from the inside out when it comes to the new regime’s first draft. After taking Penei Sewell in the first round, Detroit came back and grabbed an interior defensive lineman in the second and in the third. Levi Onwuzurike didn’t play in 2020, but he has exceptional burst and the potential to be an elite pass rusher at the next level, albeit relying on some projection based on what we saw from him in college.”
Biggest skeptics of the Lions’ draft
It’s hard to really find anyone that were huge critics of the Lions’ draft class. From the consensus board above, the Lions didn’t receive a single grade below a B-, and even those analysts had mostly good things to say about the Lions’ selections. The consistent complaint is that the Lions waited until Round 4 to address the wide receiver position.
Here’s a sampling of the more critical grades.
Give a former NFL tight end with a penchant for inflicting pain the keys to the draft room and this is exactly what you’d expect. The Lions went offensive line, defensive line, defensive line with their first three picks and while we’re all left staring at the empty, dust-ridden shelf that is their receiver room, it represented a solid foundational maneuver going forward.
“The Lions did an excellent job solidifying the offensive line in front of new quarterback Jared Goff, taking top offensive tackle Penei Sewell in Round 1, but it might not be enough to help Detroit climb a rung up the NFC North ladder.
Waiting to address wide receiver, after losing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in free agency, until Round 4 was … Interesting.”
“Where this draft gets questionable for the Lions is in their refusal to take a receiver for Jared Goff until the fourth round, where they picked up USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown is a very nice slot and outside receiver, but he’s not a WR1, and the Lions have a bunch of WR3s behind him.”
“With three Day 2 picks, I was surprised they went with two defensive tackles, but it’s clear they see the interior as a massive hole. Levi Onwuzurike (41) and Alim McNeill (72) complement each other well — Onwuzurike has pass-rush upside, and McNeill is strong against the run as a nose tackle. Still, it was a little high, and the Lions’ wide receiver depth chart is one of the league’s worst. They could have gotten a good wideout in either round.”