Lions rookie minicamp: First impressions on Detroit’s draft class of 2024

USA Today

Friday was the first day of Detroit Lions rookie minicamp at the team’s training facility in Allen Park. It was our first chance to get an in-person look at the six players the Lions selected a couple of weeks ago in the 2024 NFL Draft in nearby downtown Detroit.

It’s the first day in a Lions uniform for these guys, and the drills are not padded. In other words, it’s all about first impressions of athletic ability and relative technical competence coming into the Lions for the first day of their professional lives. These are observations made with that firmly in mind.

Here’s the initial takeaway on seeing the Lions draft class on the first day of rookie minicamp.

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Terrion Arnold

Detroit Lions cornerback Terrion Arnold (0) warms up during rookie minicamp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Friday, May 10, 2024.

Arnold is the team’s first-round pick, and he embraces the challenge. There is an outward swagger to Arnold, even on the opening day of rookie minicamp. He’s talkative on the field. Ebullient. He and Ennis Rakestraw have an easy, respectfully playful chemistry already both on and off the field.

We didn’t get to see a lot of full-speed action, but just watching Arnold going against the other rookies here, any questions about his speed appear wildly unfounded. His burst out of his hip flip is top-shelf and Arnold is at top speed right away.

Ennis Rakestraw

Detroit Lions cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (15) practices during rookie minicamp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Friday, May 10, 2024.

Rakestraw is still coming off a core muscle surgery and his practice day ended a little early (by design), but there were two things that stood out about No. 15 from Missouri:

–His hip flip and transition footwork in coverage drills are the best on the Lions already, veterans included (not counting newcomers Carlton Davis and Amik Robertson, who we haven’t seen in person yet). Effortless change of direction and balance from Rakestraw.

–He’s visibly quite a bit smaller than Arnold, who is listed at 6-0 and 199. Rakestraw is listed by the Lions at 5-11 and 190, but both (especially the 190) seem a touch inflated when seeing him stand next to Arnold or doing a drill alongside rookie tryout CB Kyler McMichael, who is a very legit 207 pounds at six feet tall.

Giovanni Manu

Detroit Lions offensive lineman Giovanni Manu (59) practices during rookie minicamp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Friday, May 10, 2024.

It’s very easy to spot Manu, even amongst a crowd of large football players. The rookie lineman is every bit of 6-foot-7 and a listed 354 pounds. He drew legit oohs and wows from the media seeing him in person for the first time, myself included. His lower body appears crafted out of a video game create-a-player but it would be rejected for not being realistic in proportion. Truly impressive physical specimen.

Can he play? We will see. The first impression is that Manu is raw technically. Raw might not even be strong enough for his relative skill level. He was guilty of egregious holds on four of the first five reps against live defense (no pads), and his hand placement and pad level are all over the place. He hasn’t played against high-level competition, notably quickness off the edge, and it really shows.

And then there was the moment of epiphany. In a run-blocking drill, after getting some personalized instruction from OL coach Hank Fraley, Manu had a perfect rep. His hands were exactly where and when they needed to be into the chest of the blocking mark. Manu’s shoulders locked and he drove a 305-pound lineman backward like a locomotive pushing a Prius. And all at once, any wonder about why the Lions traded up into the fourth round for such a project quickly blew away in the brisk May breeze.

The athletic potential almost doesn’t seem fair compared to the other linemen around him, even sixth-round pick Christian Mahogany (more on him in a bit). There’s a lot of work needed before Manu could ever be trusted in a game, but if he comes even close to fulfilling the athletic promise he showed on that glorious rep, the NFL won’t be ready for him.

Sione Vaki

Detroit Lions running back Sione Vaki (33) runs a drill during rookie minicamp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Friday, May 10, 2024.

As was made clear by Lions assistant GM Ray Agnew before practice, Vaki is a running back in Detroit, not a safety. No. 33 is built for initiating contact and then running through it with the ball in his hands. Without live tackling, it’s tough to evaluate running prowess, but he showed quick footwork in a couple of drills. RB coach Scottie Montgomery praised Vaki’s lean and pad level in another drill. Even if you couldn’t see the No. 33 jersey, you would know Vaki was the RB doing the drill by the sheer volume of grass he churned up with his cleats. Heavy stepper with explosive lower-body twitch, and he knows it too.

Then came special teams. As Agnew also indicated, the Lions love his potential on special teams. Vaki quickly proved worthy of that praise. He was unblockable on kickoff coverage, with an almost preternatural instinct for knowing where the return man–any of the group of return men–was heading and meeting them before they could get into the open.

Mekhi Wingo

Detroit Lions defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo (94) arms up during rookie minicamp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Friday, May 10, 2024.

The defensive linemen were working off on a side field by themselves for much of the day, so I didn’t see much of Wingo beyond the opening portion of practice and then after the day ended. He’s definitely got a quick first step that he used to disrupt UDFA center Kingsley Eguakun early on. Wingo did see some alignment at DE in that early portion, too.

Christian Mahogany

Detroit Lions offensive lineman Christian Mahogany (73) practices during rookie minicamp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Friday, May 10, 2024.

Mahogany wears No. 73, and if you didn’t know better, you’d easily mistake him for the last Lions player to rock that jersey, Jonah Jackson. They have similar builds and similar stances at guard, though Mahogany only played right guard on Friday, while Jackson was the team’s left guard for the last four years.

One thing that stood out about Mahogany in drills against the defensive line at the start of practice: foot churn. He’s got fast foot frequency while engaged and it allows him to unleash power even more than what he naturally has in wide-chested upper body.

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