Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes quickly earned the trust of the Lions’ fanbase. After two seasons at the helm, Holmes has taken Detroit from the beginning of a rebuild to NFC North favorites. In that time Holmes has fans believing in his vision. Even the roster moves they disagree with, fans have given Holmes the benefit of the doubt.
Smart free agent signings, finding the right head coach in Dan Campbell and building an identity with the roster have been major components to Detroit’s rise from the ashes of the Matt Patricia, Bob Quinn era. Where Holmes has truly shined is in the NFL Draft. The GM has a knack for finding hidden gems in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.
In Holmes’ first offseason running the show, he established his competency as a roster builder. He set the tone with his first draft class in 2021. All seven of the players from Detroit’s 2021 draft class remain on the roster entering training camp. Three of those players are projected starters, and two have already received Pro Bowl nods.
While these players are far from finished products, there is a good feel for where their careers are going at this point. With that in mind, here are some grades for Holmes’ first draft as GM of the Detroit Lions.
Round 1, Pick 7: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
With his first ever pick as an NFL GM, Holmes went with the best player available in Sewell. The 6-foot-5, 331-pound offensive tackle out of Oregon slid to Detroit after two other tackle-needy teams in the Bengals and Dolphins opted to target receiver. It is safe to say no one in the Lions organization regrets the decision to draft Sewell.
He made the switch to right tackle and has been a reliable run blocker and pass protector from day one. He earned a 77 Pro Football Focus grade as a rookie and improved in year two with an 80.6 grade. Sewell allowed just two sacks in 2022. He was a key contributor to a Detroit Lions offense that ranked in the top five in the NFL in 2022.
Sewell was rewarded for his consistent play when he was named a Pro Bowler this past season. He forms a dominant tackle duo with Taylor Decker. Once the veteran’s contract is up, Sewell could find himself switching back to left tackle. Time will tell on that. For now, the Lions have one of the best right tackles in the league on a rookie contract.
Round 2, Pick 41: Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
It is hard to completely fault Onwuzurike for his slow start to his career. The interior defensive lineman missed the entire 2022 season with a back injury. However, he underperformed for his draft placement during his rookie season. In 184 pass rush snaps, Onwuzurike generated only three pressures. Only one of those led to a sack. Underwhelming to say the least.
The Lions are going to utilize a rotation-heavy interior defensive line unit. Onwuzurike will be competing with Isaiah Buggs, Benito Jones and rookie Brodric Martin for second interior lineman snaps. So, the opportunity to improve this grade will be there, at least during training camp.
This really comes down to the round Onwuzurike was taken in. He gets a partial pass since he was injured last season, but teams expect their second-rounders to be contributors as rookies. Onwuzurike was not that for the Detroit Lions.
Round 3, Pick 72: Alim McNeill, DL, NC State
McNeill is not a Pro-Bowler, and he is not a top-10 talent at interior defensive line. However, he is a good player who is expected to take another step forward in 2023.
McNeill stuffs the run and is able to generate pressure on the quarterback. It does not always lead to sacks, but he makes his presence felt when he rushes the passer. His production as a third-rounder makes him a steal in the 2021 draft class.
Onwuzurike has not panned out thus far, but Holmes showed exactly why double dipping on positions can be critical to roster construction. McNeill is a good player, and he was selected at a good value pick.
Round 3, Pick 101: Ifeatu Melifonwu, DB, Syracuse
Melifonwu has not seen the field much during his two years in the league. The Lions utilized the Syracuse product in multiple roles, but he has struggled to perform in all of them. He has played outside corner, slot, box safety. None of these roles seem to fit for Melifonwu.
The hit rate on third rounds picks is not nearly as high as it is on first and second-rounders, but you still hope they will be solid depth players at the very worst. Melifonwu has not been that.
Onwuzurike’s injury questions still provide some promise for development when healthy, but Melifonwu is a different story. With all of the moves the Detroit Lions made to overhaul their secondary this offseason, Melifonwu may be the odd one out when the roster is getting trimmed.
Round 4, Pick 112: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
Potentially the steal of the draft? St. Brown has been nothing short of superb for the Lions during his young career. The USC product makes his money out of the slot, and his production was rewarded with a Pro Bowl nod in 2022.
St. Brown has totaled 2,073 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons with Detroit. He boasted a 90.7 grade from PFF in 2022, and finished the season with 106 receptions.
The St. Brown selection was the first instance of Holmes finding high-end talent in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. He has since repeated that with the selections of Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston in the 2022 draft.
Round 4, Pick 113: Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue
Barnes is a replacement-level starter at best. There are worse linebackers in the league, but his play has always left something lacking. He was replaced by Rodriguez as the main nickel linebacker next to Alex Anzalone, and he is unlikely to beat out Rodriguez, Anzalone and rookie Jack Campbell for the starting linebacker spots in base defense.
Round 7, Pick 257: Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
Jefferson is currently the fourth running back listed on Detroit’s depth chart. Not bad for a seventh-round pick. He missed all of 2022, and played sparingly as a rookie. Jefferson has posted 74 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in his career. Could there be something more that Jefferson has not shown? Maybe. But with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs slated to share the bulk of rushing duties and Craig Reynolds established as the third guy, Jefferson’s opportunities will be limited. Still, a seventh-round pick seeing the field and scoring touchdowns is more than many late-round picks can say.
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