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TWENTYMAN: How Lions rookies have fared through first half of season

Detroit Lions rookies are just about halfway through their first NFL season and have plenty of game tape now for coaches to evaluate their performance through eight games.

Detroit's one of the youngest teams in the NFL and has been forced to play a lot of rookies because of both injuries and ineffective play from veterans in front of them. While there might be some growing pains that come along with playing young guys, it also bodes well for the team's future by getting them quality experience.

Let's take a look at how Detroit's rookies have performed through the first half of the season:


Tackle Penei Sewell

Sewell, Detroit's top pick in this year's draft, was moved from right tackle to left tackle the week of the season opener due to the finger injury suffered by veteran Taylor Decker. He didn't allow a sack in his first three contests of the year, and though he went through a little bit of a rough patch Weeks 4 & 5 allowing two sacks apiece in games against Chicago and Minnesota, Sewell's bounced back nicely and hasn't been credited with allowing a sack the last three weeks.

He's been particularly good as a run blocker, ranked among the top 20 tackles (both sides) as a run blocker by Pro Football Focus, and has been steady overall through eight games.

Defensive end Levi Onwuzurike

Onwuzurike missed a portion of training camp with a back injury and it took him a little bit to get into action. Through seven games, he has 13 tackles and has yet to record his first sack. The Lions need more out of their second-round pick the second half of the season, particularly in pass rushing situations, where Onwuzurike is credited with having just one pressure on the year.

Nose tackle Alim McNeill

Detroit's third-round draft pick has been a starter since Day 1, and he's been solid. McNeill has 16 tackles in eight games with four total pressures, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss. Like we talked about with Onwuzurike, Detroit could use a little more pass-rushing prowess from their big nose tackle the final nine games of the year.

Cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu

It's too bad we haven't been able to see more of Melifonwu. He entered the season as Detroit's third cornerback on the outside behind Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye. He was elevated to starter after Okudah was lost for the season Week 1 with an Achilles injury. Unfortunately, Melifonwu injured his thigh defending a deep pass in his first start Week 2 in Green Bay and hasn't played since.

The Lions love his size (6-3, 210) and length, and hopefully he has an opportunity to return the second half of the season and end his rookie season on a strong note.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown

After a slow start to the season with just six catches in Detroit's first three games, St. Brown caught six passes for 70 yards Week 4 vs. Chicago. He followed that up with a seven-catch performance Week 5 in Minnesota and five more receptions Week 6 vs. Cincinnati. He was the only receiver to catch a pass (three for 46 yards) in last week's loss to the Eagles.

Head coach Dan Campbell said they're going to try and find ways to get St. Brown the ball more moving forward. He's totaled 27 receptions and 250 yards in eight games with no touchdowns. While his offensive production has been somewhat modest, St. Brown is a physical player and has been very good as a blocker down the field in the run and screen games.

Linebacker Derrick Barnes

The fourth-round pick out of Purdue has split duties with Jalen Reeves-Maybin next to Alex Anzalone and is playing mostly the MIKE linebacker role when on the field. Barnes is tied with Reeves-Maybin for the fourth most tackles on the team with 34. He's also got two tackles for loss and a pass defended. His speed and physicality stands out among Detroit's linebackers, and the more reps he gets the more plays he'll make. He's been making the defensive calls alongside Anzalone and is progressing nicely as an impact player for Detroit's defense.

Running back Jermar Jefferson

The rookie running back hasn't gotten much of an opportunity behind D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams on the depth chart and not earning a significant special teams role out of camp. He's only been active for two games so far, but got his first opportunity to play significant snaps last week against the Eagles with Williams missing the game due to a thigh injury.

Jefferson carried the ball twice for six yards, including his first career touchdown (8 yards). He also caught all four of his targets for 23 more yards. He's a role player for now, but the Lions are hoping he can develop into more, especially with more exposure to playing special teams.


Cornerback AJ Parker

Parker not only earned a roster spot out of camp, but also the starting nickel job. He's been pretty steady in that role all year. He's not afraid to come up and mix it up in the run game, and he's been credited with allowing just two touchdowns in seven games played. He's got a ton of upside the more experience he gets.

Cornerback Jerry Jacobs

He's started the last four games for the Lions opposite Oruwariye after taking over starting duties for Bobby Price. Jacobs is a physical corner, who isn't afraid to play up and jam receivers at the line. There's still some technique things Jacobs needs to clean up, but that should come with more experience.

Tight end Brock Wright

He seems to have supplanted Darren Fells as Detroit's second tight end behind T.J. Hockenson the last couple weeks. He's had limited reps in his two games played vs. Los Angeles and Philadelphia, but the Lions like his blocking ability and will look to continue to develop his pass-catching skills.

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