I live in Michigan. It’s a beautiful place to live, but historically it hasn’t been a wonderful place to root for a professional football team.
The recent NFL Draft, which saw the Detroit Lions make several competent moves, could positively impact the fortunes of the team, and quickly.
How do I know the Lions have done anything good in this NFL Draft? When I look at my Facebook timeline I see all my football-loving friends posting about the Draft. And guess what? Every post is positive. Every last one of them. Lions fans are ecstatic that the franchise seemed to have real adults in the room for this NFL Draft.
First Round Pick: The O-Line
Surprise doesn’t begin to explain how the Lions felt when Oregon’s Penei Sewell fell to them and the 7th pick. Sewell is universally acclaimed as the best offensive lineman available from the college ranks. He was the 2019 Outland Trophy winner and unanimous All-American. He sat out the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he’s still only 20 years old. His potential is so great, it prompted this response:
One NFL head coach called Lions’ first-round pick Penei Sewell “the one surefire Hall of Famer in this draft class.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 30, 2021
With Sewell anchored on the left side of the line, Lions’ quarterback Jared Goff will enjoy something Matthew Stafford rarely did: pain-free Sundays. But Sewell is more than a protection blocker: he is agile and effective in run blocking. His presence will immediately make the Lion o-line the most improved in the NFL.
As the first choice in the Brad Holmes era, the selection of Sewell, even if it was unexpected, bodes well as a foundational piece for this franchise.
Round 2 & 3: The Battle Of The Big Guys
With their second-round pick, Holmes took defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike out of Washington. Some experts had Onwuzurike as a late first-rounder, but like Sewell, a gem fell into the Lions’ paws.
How do you win in the NFL? Sure, you have to pass the ball down the field. But in order to do that you need to win the war on the line, the battle of the big guys, on both sides of the ball. With Onwuzurike and their third-rounder, DT Alim McNeil (North Carolina State), the Lions added to HUUUUUUGE bodies in the trenches on the defensive side. Both defensive tackles take up a lot of space and they are powerful, quick, and athletic enough to overpower blockers and hone in on ball carriers.
Impact Players Coming Into The Detroit Organization
How long have Lions fans been asked to wait? Patience is a virtue, but patience year after year and decade-upon-decade eventually wears you down. The players the Lions have selected in the early rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft are set to enter the lineup now and make plays on Sunday.
Here are Detroit’s first six selections and projected spots on the depth chart:
- 1st Round: Penei Sewell, OT (starter)
- 2nd Round: Levi Onwuzurike, DT (starter)
- 3rd Round: Alim McNeil, DT (starter)
- 3rd Round: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB (starter)
- 4th Round: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR (third option)
- 4th Round: Derrick Barnes, LB (starter)
In many defensive schemes, the Lions will have five rookie players on the field. That means they’ll be young, and will make some mistakes here and there, but they’ll also have energy and a chip on their shoulder. Every one of the players the Lions drafted are tough, which is certainly a theme for this draft.
Why The Lions Can Make A Playoff Splash Soon
With all these new, exciting faces, how good can the Lions be in 2021? Luckily the road to contention is traveled on soft ground. There is only one good team in the NFC North, and their MVP quarterback is currently working as a gameshow host.
The Packers won 13 games last season, but Aaron Rodgers has asked to be traded, and their skill players are not going to be nearly as skilled without “Mr. Jeopardy” tossing them the pigskin. Meanwhile, the Bears and Vikings are humdrum, so-so, and generally just win-a-few, lose-a-few teams. That leaves Detroit, who won five games last season. Thankfully, eight wins would put the Lions in the playoff hunt, and with Green Bay coming back to the pack (pun fully intended), the NFC North could be up for grabs.
Are the Lions going to win a Super Bowl this season? Probably not. But can they win enough games with a newfound aggressive style of play to be in playoff contention? Definitely. And with Holmes, firebrand head coach Dan Campbell, and a slew of young impact players, the Lions are closer to playoff wins they have been in a long time.