When scanning through national articles addressing the winners and losers of the 2021 NFL draft’s first round, Penei Sewell and the Detroit Lions aren’t mentioned.
It’s likely, though, that the oversight is partially due to the position Sewell plays: offensive tackle. The Lions used the No. 7 overall pick on the former Oregon and Desert Hills High star and received high marks in articles that graded every pick.
So, just how much did media from around the country rave about the Lions picking Sewell?
Why O-line was the right choice for Detroit
There were still plenty of high-end skill position players available on the board when Sewell was taken by Detroit. ESPN’s Eric Woodyard explains why the decision made sense for the Lions. Part of it comes down to helping provide better protection for the franchise’s new quarterback, Jared Goff, who was traded to Detroit this offseason.
“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,” Woodyard wrote. “Sewell allowed pressures on only 1.9% 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% 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.”
Grading the Sewell pick
Nearly every major national outlet that graded first-round picks gave the Sewell pick an A or higher, and they all agreed it was a solid choice.
- Danny Kelly, The Ringer (Grade: A+): “For a new front office and coaching regime that has preached toughness and, as head coach Dan Campbell put it, a bite-off-knee-caps mentality, going offensive line with their first pick just makes too much sense. Sewell is my top-ranked tackle and should slot in as a starter from day one. Whether he starts at right tackle or bumps longtime veteran Taylor Decker out of his blindside spot, the Lions’ offensive line just got a whole lot better.”
- Chad Reuter, NFL.com (Grade: A+): “There was no doubt in my mind that the Lions would jump at the chance to draft Sewell. I view him as a future All-Pro who will make new quarterback Jared Goff feel much more at home in Detroit. Offensive linemen that weigh 330 pounds simply aren’t supposed to move like Sewell does. He doesn’t have plus length for the position, but you’re not getting around this guy very easily. The Lions can play Sewell at either tackle spot. It had to be a no-brainer for the team — and their palpable excitement visible in the draft room after the pick was made showed they were thrilled.”
- Lorenz Leinweber, Sports Illustrated (Grade: A+): “Sewell opted out of the 2020 season after one of the most impressive campaigns ever at left tackle from a 19-year-old. When looking at uncoachable traits at the position, the Oregon prospect has them all: athleticism, dominant strength and balance. With NFL coaching he can become a premier blindside protector for years to come. This is a best player available pick for Detroit, who could not pass up on Sewell’s talent. Expect him to be the starting left tackle early on. His demeanor fits what the new Lions regime is looking for.”
- Brent Sobleski, Bleacher Report (Grade: A): “A bone-jarring blocker with unlimited upside to play opposite Taylor Decker is the ideal selection. Sewell will immediately become a tone-setter for the rest of the offense. The Lions will build an identity through their offensive front into their backfield since the team still features the league’s worst wide receiver corps.”
- Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News (Grade: A): “The Lions came through on a good bet to take the best player available for their total rebuild under GM Brad Holmes. Taylor Decker is still at left tackle, but he’s getting older and Sewell can start and immediately upgrade right tackle with Halapoulivaati Vaitai moving to guard. He’s smooth in pass protection and also a long-term rock for the running game.”
- Rob Rang, Fox Sports (Grade: A): “The most physically dominant offensive lineman in the Pac-12 since the Dallas Cowboys’ perennial Pro Bowler Tyron Smith was manning the left tackle spot at USC, Sewell is a mauler at the point of attack with rare size, strength and agility. With the investment made in new quarterback Jared Goff, the Lions had to protect and they just added the best blocker in the draft. Folks, despite what some have argued, the gap between Sewell and the other linemen in this class is significant. Sewell is one of the true blue chips of this class, and those are exceedingly rare on the offensive line.”
- Pete Prisco, CBS Sports (Grade: B+): “They probably thought he wouldn’t be here, so they had to be happy he was. Sewell has a ton of talent and will upgrade that line in a big way.”
Belief from the Detroit market
The move was also applauded by most media in the Motor City, as it followed the franchise’s commitment to strengthen its offensive trenches.
“That’s the second-highest pick the Lions have invested in an offensive lineman in the modern era of the draft, and they’ve now spent four first-round picks on their offensive line in the last seven years overall, a league high,” mLive.com’s Kyle Meinke wrote.
“The investment up front is considerable, and comes at the expense of acquiring help elsewhere for a decimated roster. But Sewell’s meteoric rise from one of the most remote corners of the football world helps explain why Detroit’s top decision-makers not only made the investment anyway, but were quite literally running in circles looking for someone to bear hug in the war room when Sewell fell to them after an early run on quarterbacks and pass-catchers on Thursday night.”
The Detroit News’ Justin Rogers said Sewell projects as the team’s starter at right tackle on what’s expected to be a strong offensive line.
“Sewell joins a young, talented offensive line consisting of two other former first-rounders in Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow. The rest of starting five is expected to be Jonah Jackson, a third-round draft pick a year ago, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai,” Rogers wrote.
Like many others, The Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett believed the Lions didn’t reach with their pick and went with the best available talent, avoiding taking a player at a different position where they have greater need.
“I think they got one of the most talented players in the draft, He’s a guy with incredibly high upside at just 20 years old,” Birkett said, while adding there will inevitably be a learning curve for Sewell. Still, when considering what Detroit has invested to its O-line, “You can see this being a strength for the Lions for a very long time.”