One was not a surprise, but the Detroit Lions had two rookies land on Pro Football Focus’ 2021 All-Rookie Team.
By all accounts, Brad Holmes did pretty well in his first draft as Detroit Lions general manager. Two future stars were found (Penei Sewell-first round, Amon-Ra St. Brown-fourth round), and beyond the draft proceedings undrafted rookies like Jerry Jacobs and Brock Wright stepped into important roles.
It was a bit of a turbulent rookie season for Sewell. After opting out of the 2020 season at Oregon, he was originally slated to play right tackle. Then left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a hand injury just before Week 1, and Sewell moved to the spot he played in college on short notice. When Decker came back in Week 10, Sewell moved back to right tackle.
All along, Sewell held his own as a pass blocker and was even better as a run blocker. Other than a two-game stretch (Week 4 and Week 5) where he allowed four sacks, he allowed one sack in his other 14 games (he missed Week 18).
Two Lions rookies make PFF All-Rookie Team
Pro Football Focus graded Sewell very well most of the season, so it’s no surprise he made their 2021 NFL All-Rookie Team.
Sewell didn’t have the ideal start to his NFL career. He followed up being the fourth-lowest graded tackle to play at least 50 snaps during the 2021 preseason with a 58.8 PFF grade over the first five weeks of the regular season, 32nd among 39 qualifying left tackles.
Sewell started to settle in once he switched back over to that right side in Week 10 with Taylor Decker returning from injury. Sewell ended the 2021 regular season as PFF’s sixth-highest graded right tackle. The arrow should only be pointing up for the 21-year-old as he continues to get more comfortable on the right side.
But the Lions had a second first-year guy make PFF’s All-Rookie Team.
DI ALIM MCNEILL, DETROIT LIONS
There is no obvious candidate for the second interior defender spot, but McNeill earns the nod as PFF’s second-highest graded rookie at the position with a 60.3 overall grade.
McNeill earned the second-highest PFF run-defense grade of any rookie interior defender to play at least 100 run-defense snaps, and he flashed some of the quickness that gave him intriguing pass-rush potential coming out of North Carolina State.
Alim McNeill, who the Lions took in the third round (72nd overall) last April, earned the second interior defender spot on PFF’s All-Rookie Team. Despite only playing 37 percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps, he flashed as a pass rusher and run defender.
As the Lions build out what they hope will become a winning roster, the 2021 draft was a good start. Sewell and St. Brown got the most notice as the 2021 season went along, but McNeill may only need more opportunity to show himself as a centerpiece of the Detroit defensive front-seven.
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