Allen Park — Despite the rarity of immediate success for a 20-year-old offensive tackle, no one within the Detroit Lions organization seems particularly surprised by Penei Sewell’s rookie season.
“I thought he was going to be pretty good and he’s pretty good,” center Frank Ragnow said. “And he’s got a long way to go too, man, which is nuts. … From Day 1, I knew he was going to be special and he’s going to keep getting more and more special.”
Beyond the performance, what impressed Ragnow was Sewell’s humility and work ethic, which made it easy for the rest of the offensive line room to embrace the rookie.
“With all that and all the good words coming my way, I just try to stay focused in the playbook,” Sewell said. “Tried to stay focused in the work and just kind of get flooded in that and not really pay too much attention (to the praise). Because, at the end of the day, they are just words, and I control my own destiny.”
Selected with the No. 7 overall pick, the Lions immediately made it clear they were moving Sewell to right tackle. Comparing it to having to write with his opposite hand, there were clear struggles throughout training camp and the preseason. Then, just as he was starting to get settled, an injury to Taylor Decker precipitated a temporary switch back to the blindside.
Becoming the youngest player in NFL history to start a game at left tackle, Sewell impressed by holding his own against 49ers Pro Bowler Nick Bosa in the season opener, before hitting an early-season rough patch.
And even though that feels like a distant memory, it’s the first thing Sewell mentioned when asked to assess his debut season.
“Not good enough, at all,” Sewell said when asked to assess his first-year performance. “There was a couple games where I kind of struggled, but I had to go through it. Coach (Dan) Campbell said that it’ll just help me grow as an individual and a player and everything with that. So, I’m looking forward to next year.”
In Weeks 4 and 5, Sewell surrendered four sacks, two resulting in lost fumbles. It was a harsh return to reality, and a reminder that there are ups and downs with development.
But after that bump, the positives far exceeded the negatives. Even after going back to right tackle following Decker’s return, Sewell remained locked in through the finish line, allowing only one sack and four quarterback hits the rest of the season.
Overall, among offensive tackles who played at least 50% of their team’s offensive snaps, Sewell’s pass blocking efficiency (the rate he allowed pressure) ranked 29th, according to Pro Football Focus. That makes for an easy offseason focus heading into his second season.
“I want to be more fluid,” Sewell said. “I want to be more consistent out there. Those are the things I’ll be working on the most.”