Detroit Lions’ NFL draft grades 2021: Why most experts like this class

Detroit Free Press

With the 2021 NFL draft written in ink, it’s time to gather grades and analysis from draftniks across the country and see what they’re saying about the Detroit Lions’ haul.

A sampling from draft experts shows favorable reviews for new general manager Brad Holmes in his first draft with the Lions. Yes, the rebuild is underway.

Our own Dave Birkett gave his synopsis over the weekend, including his favorite pick, biggest reach and more, and our Carlos Monarrez pegged Lions’ winners and losers from the draft.

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As a reminder, the Lions picked seven players: Oregon OT Penei Sewell (1-7), Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike (2-41), North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill (3-72), Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (3-101), USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (4-112), Purdue LB Derrick Barnes (4-113), Oregon State RB Jermar Jefferson (7-257).

Here is an edited look at Lions’ draft grades — click on the name/network for the full breakdown. Let’s start at home first:

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“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 Jefferson.”

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“It wasn’t sexy, but it didn’t need to be given the state of this roster. The first three picks replenished the trenches for an organization that wants to be tougher. Holmes waited until the fourth round for a receiver, but got a good one in St. Brown. However the full tale won’t be told until the Lions use the 2022 and 2023 first-rounders they acquired in the Matthew Stafford trade.”

“The Lions went big, big, big with their first three picks, which is the right way to build a team. With Chris Spielman and Dan Campbell calling the shots along with GM Brad Holmes, you knew they would pick big players. I like it.”

“Detroit made it a point to get better in both trenches early and got some good secondary and linebacker depth later. Sewell was an unbeatable way to come out swinging. St. Brown is the ideal tough slot receiver for them to playoff tight end T.J. Hockenson. The Lions didn’t address wide receiver multiple times, but that’s only real knock for an important class for their latest rebuild.”

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“I really thought the best thing for Detroit was to trade down to pick up more assets. … Penei Sewell is a stellar alternative, a franchise tackle who is great as both a pass protector and run blocker. The Lions are going to use him on the right side opposite Taylor Decker for now, and that gives them two great bookends to build around.

“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. Still … the Lions’ wide receiver depth chart is one of the league’s worst.

“Amon-Ra St. Brown (112) went nearly 30 spots lower than I had him on my board, so that’s a nice pick and some redemption for passing on wideouts in Round 3.”

“Sewell’s 95.8 PFF grade in 2019, the last season he played college football, is even more impressive because he was only 19 years old at the time. Sewell could be a Lions tackle for the next decade.

“St. Brown possesses good body control, offers value after the catch, can run a full route tree and was consistently productive at USC, generating 2.11 yards per route run throughout his career. St. Brown may have to start right away for Detroit.”

“Listen: The Lions should have drafted at least two wide receivers and should have drafted a wide receiver in the first three rounds. Good players were available at those values at wide receiver — it’s not like they didn’t have an opportunity. So for as much as I like the value on Sewell/Onwuzurike/McNeill/Barnes, and respect the approach of attacking BPA on a multi-year rebuild, yeah. … I’m gonna knock you for not taking a WR.”

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“In my career as an NFL writer, I’m not sure I’ve ever written anything nice about the Lions, but that’s about to change! They had a legitimately good draft. Sewell falling to them at No. 7 was pretty much a best-case scenario. He’s an excellent prospect at a premium position. There was no need to overthink it.

“Detroit seems to be committed to building for the long haul, which is smart given the state of the roster. If you’re a Lions fan, you have to be thrilled with GM Brad Holmes’ first draft.”

“A top-five ranked player on my board, Sewell was the perfect first addition for a new regime tasked with rebooting the franchise. At only 20 years old, his combination of big man balance and natural instincts are uncommon, which should allow him to start as a rookie and develop into one of the league’s top tackles.”

“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. Their first three picks … represented a solid foundational maneuver going forward.

“Sewell gives the Lions some serious heft up front. … With Green Bay in the division, it makes sense to pivot toward a sturdier, ball-control type philosophy that has the Lions consistently winning at the line.

“If “kneecap biter” applied to a member of the secondary, Melifonwu might fit the bill. There’s a rolodex of plays showing the 6-3 defensive back clobbering smaller wideouts at the catch point.”

Lions’ winners and losers from 2021 NFL draft include Holmes, Spielman ]

He didn’t do grades, instead explaining the “best pick” by every team. For the Lions, he lists Sewell.

“For a rebuilding organization with a new coaching staff, landing a foundational tackle is a game-changer. I keep saying that it’s a $20 cab ride to get around Sewell when rushing the passer because of his length, and he shows really good hand placement on his initial punch in pass protection. But he also will make an impact as a run-blocker, with elite foot speed as a zone blocker and power to move defenders off the ball.

“One thing I do wonder about: How will Sewell adjust to the right tackle position? The Lions are sliding him over with Taylor Decker occupying the left side. But I’m not too worried about it; Sewell is a problem for defenders no matter where you put him.”

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