In a continued effort to re-engage the fan base, the Detroit Lions held a special virtual session Tuesday night with season-ticket holders where general manager Brad Holmes and several members of the team’s front office provided insight on the team’s seven draft picks.
Moderated by play-by-play voice Dan Miller, Holmes provided a brief introduction on each pick, then handed off to different members of the front office to provide added insight on both the player and the selection process.
The hour-long session was capped off with a brief Q&A period between attendees and Holmes.
► For the second time this week, Holmes acknowledged there was a legitimate opportunity to trade down in the first round, but the ability to draft Penei Sewell was simply too good to pass up.
“There was dialogue that we had with other teams where we had to make a decision on Penei,” Holmes said. “There were offers that were intriguing from other teams, but we just kind of decided as a staff, once he fell to us, let’s just not get cute. There were very quick discussions that we had with those clubs.”
Asked in the Q&A at the end of the session who the Lions would have drafted if Sewell was off the board, Holmes declined to name a specific player, but said the team had two other options they liked and he dreaded having to choose between them.
► Holmes gushed about Sewell, as both a player and a person, but one trait stood out above the others for the general manager; footwork. It’s so good, Holmes found himself drawing comparisons to a Hall of Famer.
“His ability to get to the second level, his ability to block in space,” Holmes said. “I’ve always said, in terms of feet, his feet are pretty rare for a guy his size. I remember when I first got with the Rams, I remember Orlando Pace was probably the best feet I had ever seen from an offensive tackle and (Sewell) is definitely the closest one, when you talk about sheer athletic ability and footwork.”
Pace, selected No. 1 overall by the Rams in 1997, was a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro.
► Moving on to second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike, Holmes called the Washington defensive tackle one of his favorite prospects in the class and someone he’d been watching closely for more than a year.
Holmes had previously mentioned he considered moving up in the draft, potentially back into the first round, to secure Onwuzurike, only to be counseled to remain patient. On Tuesday, Holmes credited senior adviser John Dorsey as being influential in staying put at pick No. 41.
Dorsey then popped on the call to share thoughts on the prospect from Allen, Texas. Dorsey believes Onwuzurike has the best hands of any defensive tackle in the class. Dorsey compared Onwuzurike’s skill set and playing style to William Fuller, a four-time Pro Bowler from the early 1990’s who recorded 100.5 sacks during his 13-year career.
► Regarding Onwuzurike opting out of the 2020 season, both Holmes and Dorsey noted his mother works as a frontline nurse, which factored into the decision.
► Ray Agnew, Detroit’s assistant general manager, was the choice to talk about third-rounder Alim McNeill. Who better to talk about the North Carolina State defensive lineman than the member of the front office who played the same position for the same school three decades earlier?
Agnew called McNeill a “bad man,” who despite his stout, 320-pound frame is a better pass-rusher than most people expect. But McNeill’s primary function will be taking on double teams, allowing Detroit’s middle linebacker to run free and make plays.
► With receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, both Holmes and director of player personnel Lance Newmark kept harping on the player’s football maturity. Holmes compared the trait to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods in Los Angeles, while Newmark believes it will allow St. Brown to contribute immediately.
Newmark raved about St. Brown’s advanced savvy for his age (21), saying the overall level of development is uncommon.
“He’s a consistent player,” Newmark said. “I think he’s a quarterback-friendly player, a guy that quarterbacks are going to trust. He has a reliability factor to him that he brings. I think people are going to like throwing to him, and I think they’re going to like throwing to him right away. They’re going to see that this guy means business and you can trust him to do things right.”
► Holmes said he was having trouble finding a linebacker in this class that special adviser, and former linebacker, Chris Spielman would sign off on. They eventually found that guy in Derrick Barnes.
Spielman acknowledged he has lofty standards for the position, but Barnes captured his attention after college scouting director Dave Sears encouraged him to take a deeper look. Spielman said he likes the prospect’s ability to close, as well as his vision and hand usage.
After the Lions drafted Barnes, Holmes said he got several texts from other teams expressing frustration they missed out or simply congratulations on the selection. Spielman confirmed, saying he got a text from his brother Rick, general manager of the Vikings, conceding it was a great pick for the Lions.
► Spielman noted Barnes was a “Lions logo guy.” Holmes explained that the label is based on background work done by the scouts and signifies a player who meets the organization’s standards for elite intangibles and character.
► Building off comments made by coach Dan Campbell earlier this week, Holmes said seventh-round running back Jermar Jefferson’s play speed was among the fastest in the country at the position, negating any concerns the team had about his subpar 40-yard time at his pro day. The general manager credited the analytics staff’s role in the selection.
Newmark praised Jefferson’s intelligence, vision and “unique anticipation.” Newmark said Jefferson’s abilities go beyond seeing the initial lane, but also plotting his next move in the second level. That led to an impressive 81 gains of 10 or more yards during Jefferson’s three seasons at Oregon State.
Just don’t expect Jefferson to be a bowling ball in short-yardage situations. Newmark said Jefferson is not a power player. The back’s game is more about maximizing what’s created for him by his blocking.