Detroit Lions’ Brad Holmes rallies late to earn a better grade in his first NFL draft

Detroit Free Press

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Yes, I gave the Detroit Lions a D for drafting Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

And I regret nothing.

My problem with drafting Sewell, or any offensive lineman, so high is you’re passing on potentially great playmakers who are much, much harder to find later on down the draft board.

I think Sewell will be a good and possibly great player. But it was too much draft capital to spend on a position group that’s already very well stocked with good, young players who aren’t going anywhere.

BIRKETT: Grading the Lions’ 2021 draft class: Favorite pick, biggest reach

I’ve also written a lot recently about how elite teams, like the past two Super Bowl champions, have managed to win big with just one first-rounder on their respective offensive lines. Half of last year’s Pro Bowl offensive tackles were picked in the third round or later. You can find excellent O-linemen after the first round and definitely outside of the top 10.

If the Lions were without a serviceable tackle or felt they were one elite offensive lineman away from winning the division, then spending the No. 7 overall pick on a right tackle would make sense.

But the better move would have been to either trade up – which general manager Brad Holmes reportedly tried to do last week in order to grab an elite playmaker like LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 4 pick – or trade down and accumulate more picks to help the rebuild.

I said this from the start. The Lions had so many holes to fill, especially on defense, that they almost couldn’t go wrong. Holmes ignored playmakers until late in the third round, when he took big, tall Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. To Holmes’ credit, he at least spent four picks on defensive players.

Holmes also rallied late by finally showing aggressiveness and moving up to draft Purdue linebacker Derrick Barnes in the fourth round at position of immense need. I loved seeing him take the initiative because a team as bad as the Lions needs a proactive GM who makes things happen instead of standing pat and players fall to him.

One of my favorite picks was Southern Cal receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. It’s another big position of need. St. Brown was productive and has an impressive athletic pedigree. He could be an invaluable slot receiver for Jared Goff, possibly the way Golden Tate was for Matthew Stafford.

I don’t even care about St. Brown’s fun and interesting backstory, with him being able to speak several languages and his dad, John Brown, being a former Mr. Universe. OK, I care a little. I’m a sucker for a good story. But Amon-Ra generally had a third-round grade and some analysts had him as high as a second-round pick. That makes him a potential steal in the fourth round.

I gave the Lions an A, four B’s and two D’s. That averages out to either a high C or a low B. I didn’t like the way the Lions started this draft, but being the forgiving optimist that I am, credit them for finishing strong, creating an extra draft pick, filling needs and possibly getting a couple of skill-positions heists in St. Brown and Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round.

My final overall grade for the Lions’ 2021 NFL draft: B.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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