Grading Detroit Lions’ 2021 draft class: Favorite pick, biggest reach, more

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions‘ 2021 NFL draft class.

Best pick: Penei Sewell

At the risk of being Mr. Obvious, this is an easy call. Sewell was the best offensive lineman in the draft and one of three elite non-quarterbacks available. The Lions, in need of blue-chip talent, did the right thing and made him the pick at No. 7. Had Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts or Trey Lance been available, there would have been a debate to be had. But Sewell has All-Pro upside, plays a premium position and gives the Lions a chance to build a fortress up front. What’s not to like?

Lions’ UDFA tracker: Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt highlights list ]

Biggest steal: Amon-Ra St. Brown

I penciled St. Brown in as a third-round pick, No. 71 overall, in my three-ways-to-ace-the-draft column last week, so there is no doubt in my mind the Lions got great value by taking the USC receiver early on Day 3. St. Brown can play inside or out, is a dependable pass catcher and is durable having never missed a game for injury in his college career. I got a Golden Tate comp on St. Brown from one scout. He won’t be that right away, but he should be a contributor for the Lions this fall.

FAMILY TIES: Why Lions draft pick Amon-Ra St. Brown’s family has drawn comparisons to the Balls

Biggest reach: None

Taking Levi Onwuzurike with the ninth pick of the second round is a little rich for me, but I wouldn’t classify it as a reach. Onwuzurike was the second-best interior defensive lineman in the draft, behind Christian Barmore, and he was bound to come off the board somewhere on Day 2. He is a talented and colorful player who needs to rush the passer more consistently, but his athleticism should be an asset to a defensive line that lacks star power.

DRAFT CLASS 2021: Lions’ round-by-round selections

STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM, NOW HE’S HERE: Derrick Barnes went from two-star recruit to All-Big Ten player

Overall grade: B-plus

The Lions got the best offensive lineman in the draft, a steal of a receiver in Round 4, made a smart Day 3 move to trade up for a linebacker who can help this fall and took a worthwhile roll of the dice on a late-round running back. I don’t think they maximized the value of every pick and would have preferred help for the back seven (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or Trevon Moehrig) to start Day 2. But general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell seemed to have and execute a plan, and that is the most important thing in any draft.

It will be interesting to see if we are having a Matt Ryan/Jake Long-type debate four years from now between Sewell and new Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields. The Lions passed on Fields at No. 7 , and now face him twice a year in the NFC North. Fields’ play will color the perception of this draft class, but in the moment I like what the Lions did.

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

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