The Detroit Lions are coming off yet again, another disappointing season. The Lions are historically the most inept professional football team. They finished last season 5-11 and fourth in the NFC North. Detroit ended up with the 7th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This team looked and played like a team that was completely unprepared week in and week out. It was clear that Patricia had lost the locker room and the ownership had to make changes. This team ended the season with the 20th ranked offense putting up 350.2 yards per game and the 32nd ranked team defense giving up 419.8 yards per game. Those defensive numbers were after Patricia and Quinn “revamped” the defense. The Lions passing attack was ranked 10th with 256.6 yards per game in the air. Although their team stats did not reflect it, the addition of Swift brought some optimism to the Lion running game. They finished the season ranked 20th in rushing putting up only 93.7 yards per game. Sure, their offense could have been better, but their issue was on the other side of the ball. With their team defense coming in dead last, their pass defense came in ranked 30th and rush defense came in at 29th. The Lions defense could not have stopped the local peewee team from scoring. After the abysmal season that Lions fans had to endure, it is clear there is a lot of work for this organization to do!
Another off-season for the Lions means another GM and coaching change. Sheila Ford Hamp brought in Chris Spielman as a special assistant to help change the Lions franchise. They also brought in Barry Sanders to assist in the GM and coaching search. This lead the organization to hire, the very highly regarded, Brad Holmes. Holmes is very well regarded for his work he did as the director of college scouting for the Los Angeles Rams. The Lions then proceeded to bring in the former Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell, who also played for the Lions at one time. Campbell was the assistant head coach in New Orleans last year. Campbell and Holmes have since gone on to put together a very experienced and talented coaching staff to help Campbell be successful. Campbell is not an X’s and O’s coach. He is a player‘s coach who will not only motivate his team to run through a wall for him but will run through that same wall with them. The Lions hired Anthony Lynn as the OC, who is an extremely well regarded former OC. They also brought in Aaron Glen as the DC, who is coming from the Saints as their defensive backs coach. They then hired guys like Deuce Staley, Mark Brunell, and Antwaan Randle El. Even with the skepticism about Dan Campbell, this appears to be one of the best coaching staffs this organization has ever put together.
Cap Space: $16.95 million
Key Losses: Matthew Stafford (QB), Jesse James (TE), Justin Coleman (CB), Joe Dahl (OL), Desmond Trufant (CB), Chase Daniel (QB), Marvin Jones (WR), Kenny Golladay (WR), Kerryon Johnson (RB), Matt Prater (K), Jarrad Davis (LB),
Key Additions: Jared Goff (QB), Michael Brockers (DL), Jamaal Williams (RB), Darren Fells (TE), Tyrell Williams (WR), Breshad Perriman (WR)
Holmes came in and did the one thing that made almost every Lions fan cry and rejoice in the same moment, he traded Matthew Stafford away. This is HUGE! Stafford was a very good quarterback for the Detroit Lions but it was time for us to start a real rebuild and at the same time give him a chance to win something. Holmes then went out and let guys walk like Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. This off-season is the first time that I can remember Lions fans having real hope that the organization is finally starting to do things the right way. They are not cutting corners this off-season. Sure, they got Jared Goff, but he will be nothing more than a stop gap until the Lions draft their young quarterback of the future. The Lions have done a great job of bringing in great locker room veterans who know how to play and win to mentor all the young players on this team. I love the addition of guys like Williams and Brockers.
Draft: 7 Picks
Round 1 Pick 7: Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)
This was the “safe” pick for the new staff in Detroit, but it was also the right one! The Lions, for the first time in a while, can say they have a good offensive line. Their one weakness on this line was the right side. Sewell was regarded as the best offensive lineman in this draft, hands down. He won the Outland Trophy in 2019 for the best offensive lineman in the country. He will step in as the day one starter as the right tackle. Sewell is not only a great pass blocking lineman, he is also very good in the run game. In 2019 he was only called for one penalty and allowed pressure on the QB 1.9% of the time. He fit a clear mold that Dan Campbell wants on his team and that is big, physical, and high motor. But it never hurts that he has the skills and football IQ to go along with it. This kid is going to solidify the Lions offensive line for years to come and make a great addition to the likes of Ragnow, Decker, Jackson, and Vaitai.
Round 2 Pick 41: Levi Onwuzurike (DT, Washington)
Onwuzurike is another player that fits that mold of big, physical, and high motor. He is 6’3” and 290 pounds. He is quick for a big man and has good athleticism. Detroit was in need of a defensive lineman in this draft that could step in and compete for a starting position right away. They got that in Onwuzurike. He did not play in 2020 due to covid but earned first-team All-PAC 12 honors in 2019. In that season he recorded 45 tackles, of which he had two sacks and six tackles for loss. The concern with him is a lack of sustained production, but with the skills that he has shown, I look for Campbell to help him improve in that area. He will have a great mentor in Brockers to help with that.
Round 3 Pick 72: Alim McNeill (DT, NC State)
This is another pick that fits the mold of what Detroit did in this draft. McNeill is 6’2” and 317 pounds. This kid has great athleticism. In high school, at 250 plus pounds, he played inside linebacker and running back. In 2020 he was awarded second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-ACC. He finished 2020 with 26 tackles, one sack, 4.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. He is expected to be a rotational player coming in with a good upside and potential to become a consistent starter in the league. Just like Onwuzurike, expect him to be mentored by guys like Brockers and to flourish on this defensive line.
Round 3 Pick 101: Ifeatu Melifonwu (CB, Syracuse)
Melifonwu is a HUGE corner. He comes in at 6’3” and 205 pounds. He has a 42-inch vertical and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds. He is big, fast, and a very physical corner. He excels at press coverage on the line. Currently his biggest weakness is off-man coverage. He allows a large cushion and currently lacks the instincts for quick recognition and transition to break on the ball. If he is playing off the line, there is a tendency for quarterbacks to play catch with the wide receiver he is responsible for. He is going to come in as depth player this season and can be a great option for press coverage. But he has the physical gifts to improve his off-man coverage over time. Many had him slated as a second-round talent.
Round 4 Pick 112: Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR, USC)
Brown fits a huge need for the Lions. They only have one returning receiver who had a catch last season in Quintez Cephus. Brown may have been the steal of the draft! He is going to come in and compete for a starting receiver spot and even if he does not start, he will see the field a lot. He is compared to Golden Tate in the type of receiver he is. He is a great route runner and has very good instincts. He lacks top end speed and strength to be on the outside on the pro level. He was a captain at USC and had a very good career there. Look for him to contribute on punt and kick returns as well. He was predicted to be a 2-3 round pick.
Round 4 Pick 113: Derrick Barnes (LB, Purdue)
Detroit moved up here to select Barnes. Detroit traded their fifth-round pick (No. 153) and a 2022 fourth-rounder and in exchange, got the 113th pick and the 257th pick in the seventh-round. Barnes is another big and physical player coming in at 6’0” and 238 pounds. He fits a need for the Lions at inside linebacker. They are lacking depth in at linebacker with the losses in free agency. He was second-team All-Big Ten in 2020. He finished the season tied for sixth in the FBS averaging 6.7 solo tackles per game. Expect him to come in and be a depth guy at linebacker and contribute on special teams right away. This pick was a stretch, moving up to take him, but Dan Campbell has shown he wants this type of player.
Round 7 Pick 257: Jermar Jefferson (RB, Oregon State)
With their final pick the Lions took Jefferson to add to their running back depth. Swift is the clear-cut starter for the Lions and the addition of Williams will fill that number two running back spot. Jefferson will come in and compete for the number three spot. He was a productive back at Oregon State finishing 2020 with 858 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was first-team All-Pac 12 finishing fourth with 143 yards per game. He is a downhill physical runner who lacks that elite burst and quickness, but as his stats show, can be a very effective runner. He is going to take the Kerryon Johnson role as the third back and will contribute on special teams. This was a very good pick for the Lions being that he was projected to be a fifth-round pick.
Draft Grade: A-
Notes & Predictions
If it is not clear to this point, I am a Lions fan. I love what the Lions have done overall this off-season. The Dan Campbell hire has me slightly tempering my excitement but the staff that he has brought in around him is great. It appears that after 64 years of ineptitude and mediocrity that the Lions organization might finally be rebuilding the right way. This team still has a ton of holes and lacks overall talent, but they appear to finally be heading in the right direction. I expect this season to be another losing season but steps in the right direction. They will win one more game than last year just because the team will be better on defense, better prepared, and put in positions to succeed.
Season Record: 6-11, 4th in the NFC North (Top 10 pick in 2022 NFL draft)