After last season's virtual draft, Cleveland was playing host to festivities this year with a handful of potential draft picks present and socially distanced because of COVID-19.
Here's a pick-by-pick look at how each player Detroit has selected will fit.
Round 1, No. 7 overall: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
My take: Oregon offensive line Coach Alex Mirabal called Sewell a "generational talent" at his position. His Desert Hills high school football coach Carl Franke also says, “you're never going to have to second guess his heart.” All of the signs say that Sewell was the safe pick in Detroit under the new regime. Detroit first-year head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes were searching for toughness and Sewell definitely fits the mold. He was awarded with the 2019 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior linemen and is expected to contribute immediately.
Why an OL?: Lions fans may be upset that Detroit didn’t go after a well-known skill position player, but Sewell beefs up an already strong offensive line with his unique skill set, most notably his quickness and natural blocking instincts. Sewell allowed pressures on only 1.9 percent of pass blocks in 2019, while being called for just one penalty (a false start), according to ESPN Stats and Info. Former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert was pressured on 24.8 percent of dropbacks in 2019, which was the second lowest in the Pac-12, and the Lions' front office picked him to help do the same for new franchise quarterback Jared Goff.
History: Sewell is the fourth offensive lineman taken by the Lions in the first round since 2015 -- the most in the NFL during that span. He is also Detroit’s second-highest pick for an offensive lineman in the common draft era (Lomas Brown, sixth overall in 1985). Outside of Sewell's individual stats, Oregon was 7-3 when he was in the starting lineup and 4-3 in seven games missed due to an ankle injury. Sewell wasn’t just an asset in the pass game; the Ducks relied on him heavily in the run game. In 2019, Oregon rushed outside the left tackle 10.2 times a game and outside the right tackle only 5.4 times a game. That 10.2 rushes per game ranked ninth in the FBS, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Round 2, No. 41 overall: Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
Levi Onwuzurike's NFL draft profile
Check out the best highlights from Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike's college career.
My take: It’s now clear which direction the Lions are heading under the new regime: BIG! After taking Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick on Day 1, the Lions fired back with another big man in Onwuzurike in the second round. Onwuzurike said he feels his biggest attributes are his get-off and strength, and he is hungry return to the field after opting out of the 2020 season. “I’ll hop on the field right now if I have to,” he said, laughing after his selection. He logged 49 tackles in 2019 with a tackle percentage of 94.2 percent, which was tied for the third-best mark among qualified Pac-12 defenders, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Round 3, No. 72 overall: Alim McNeill, DT, NC State
Alim McNeill's NFL draft profile
Check out the highlights from North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill's college career.
My take: Another BIG pick! Detroit adds a solid defensive tackle to the trenches in McNeill, who said he believes the organization “is trending in the right direction.” In terms of historical context, the Lions haven’t selected defensive linemen with two of their first three picks in a draft since 1992. McNeill heads to Detroit with strong credentials as a 2020 All-ACC selection and second-team AP All-American, which the Lions hope will translate at the next level. “I really feel like something special is brewing here, and I can’t wait to get it going,” McNeill said.
Round 3, No. 101 overall: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
Ifeatu Melifonwu's NFL draft profile
Check out the best highlights from Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu's college career. (edited)
My take: Lions fans may have a hard time pronouncing his name initially (eh-FAH-too mel-eh-FON-woo), but he fulfills a need on the defensive side as a 6-foot-3, 205-pound cornerback with a nearly 42-inch vertical, which can help him make up for things other corners can’t with that size and athleticism. The 2020 third-team All-ACC selection racked up 88 career tackles in college, in addition to 19 passes defensed and three interceptions. The Lions selected Jeff Okudah third overall in the 2020 NFL draft, but this selection adds depth to the position. He has had positive interaction with Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant and looks forward to soaking in as much knowledge from him as possible.
Round 4, No. 112 overall: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
My take: Detroit addresses a much-needed hole by drafting a solid receiver in Amon-Ra St. Brown. He comes from a family of athletes with his older brother, Equanimeous, playing in Green Bay and their other brother, Osiris, at Stanford. Quintez Cephus, a 2020 fifth-round rookie, is the only returning Lions wide receiver who had a catch for the team last season. They added Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond and Damion Ratley this offseason.
Round 4, No. 113 overall: Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue
My take: Just one pick after selecting St. Brown, the Lions continued to add to the defense by being aggressive and trading up for Barnes. He’s another tough-nosed player, fitting this year’s draft theme within the organization of picking the best players available with like minds. Barnes played inside linebacker, racking up 226 tackles and 10.5 sacks throughout his college career.
Round 7, No. 257 overall: Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
My take: Two picks ahead of Mr. Irrelevant, the Lions used their final draft pick to add to the backfield. It’s no secret that D'Andre Swift is the franchise’s featured running back, but this pick adds depth to one of the toughest positions on the field. Jefferson has good vision and was highly productive in college with 514 career rushes for 2,923 yards and 27 touchdowns. The Lions haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013.