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O'HARA: What we learned from the 2021 NFL Draft

Opting out of the 2020 season doesn't seem like it would have been a difficult decision, especially for prospects such as Detroit Lions' first-round pick Penei Sewell who were projected to be high draft picks.

Opting out lessened the odds of contracting COVID-19, and it practically eliminated sustaining an injury, which is always a concern.

But as we learned from Sewell, the decision was difficult -- and living with it was more difficult. It took away what he likes to do best -- play football and compete with his teammates.

"Man, it was hard," Sewell said at his press conference after arriving at the Lions' Allen Park headquarters over the weekend.

Among the other things we've learned about the draft include the following: That the Lions got value for their picks based on one highly respected draft expert; they targeted their weakest area, which made sense, and they might have given us a hint on how they intend to play defense.

We start with Sewell:

He spoke passionately about not being part of his team at Oregon.

"To sit there and watch everyone else playing, and also when the Pac-12 came back to see my old teammates play, it was tough," Sewell said. "It was a decision that I really had to take to the chin and really just keep pushing. When I was watching everybody, I wrote down in my notes that the next time that I get to step in the field of play, that I'm going to make the most of it. That everybody will feel my passion and my heart the next time I step in between those lines because man, it was hard.

"I wrote down in my notes, 'Man, I'm sitting out for a reason I'm coming out with a purpose. And I'm going to make the most of it the next time I get my chance."

He learned one thing in a hurry. He has been welcomed to the Lions by his new teammates -- quarterback Jared Goff, the other offensive linemen and others.

"That means a lot," Sewell said. "That's love. To see the organization like that, and to have the (offensive line) room all tight and really caring about each other makes the process a lot easier.

"It makes it much more meaningful when you cross that line and really get in the field of play with them."

Target, defense: By their draft actions, the Lions agreed with fans and media that the defense needed help everywhere.

The Lions got help at all three levels -- up front, linebacker and the secondary.

They doubled down up front by drafting two athletic tackles -- Levi Onwuzurike of Washington in the second round, and Alim McNeill of NC State in the third.

Later in the third round they got cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu of Syracuse.

And in the fourth round, with a pick acquired in a trade with Cleveland, they drafted Derrick Barnes, a versatile linebacker who has been used as a pass rusher and middle linebacker in 2020.

Bottom line: The Lions targeted their weakest area in the draft.

On the rush: Drafting Onwuzurike and McNeill might have given us an insight into how the Lions intend to play defense.

Both had good times in the 40-yard dash in their Pro Days workouts -- 4.85 seconds for Onwuzurike, 4.94 for McNeill. That's the quickness that lets a tackle get to the quarterback and disrupt the passing game.

Nothing disrupts a quarterback more than a sudden rush up the middle.

Ratings game: The full value of Holmes' first draft won't be known for two or three years, when the 2021 class has had time to prove itself on the field.

Dane Brugler of The Athletic is highly respected as a talent evaluator, and for the draft ratings he puts out every year.

Based on the ratings on his list of the top 100 prospects posted on March 29 -- one month before the draft -- the Lions got value for their picks.

Their first five picks -- from Sewell at No. 7 to Amon-Ra St. Brown at No 112 -- were rated in Brugler's top 100.

Here is how the ratings compared to the draft position for those five:

  • OT Penei Sewell: Drafted No. 7, rated No. 5.
  • DT Levi Onwuzurike: Drafted No. 41, rated No. 30.
  • CB Ifeatu Melifonwu: Drafted No. 101, rated No. 58.
  • WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: Drafted No. 111, rated No. 70.
  • DT Alim McNeill Drafted No. 72, rated No. 85.

What it means: Only McNeill was rated as a lesser prospect than his ultimate draft position. Melifonwu and St. Brown were rated more than a full round lower than their draft position.

Bottom line: Based on Brugler's ratings, the Lions overwhelmingly got value for their picks. They didn't reach to fill needs.

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