The 2021 NFL draft weekend was the first true sense of the long-term team vision we got from new Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes. Free agency filled holes, the Matthew Stafford/Jared Goff trade officially converted the retool to a rebuild, but the draft is the first real proving ground for what Holmes and his assistants want the direction of the Detroit Lions to be in his tenure.
The draft class, headlined by No. 7 overall pick Penei Sewell, offers some evidence and insight on Holmes’ vision for his Lions. Here are a few things we can deduce from the draft weekend for Detroit.
The building up of the lines was predictable
The first three picks are all impressive players. Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill overhauled the Lions at the line of scrimmage. It’s a (largely) welcome change and a dedication to building the team around the trenches. It keeps with the themes Holmes experienced during his years as the director of collegiate scouting with the Rams organization. It also keeps with the theme head coach Dan Campbell experienced in his several seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Both franchises invested heavy draft capital in beefing up the lines and largely reaped the benefits with repeated playoff trips and an avoidance of having to overpay for OL and DL help in free agency. Both Holmes and Campbell are clearly sold on the concept of having the offensive and defensive lines as to building-block priorities from their old teams. The draft class reaffirms the Lions will be built in that vision, too.
Holmes’ belief in Jared Goff is no passing fancy
Jared Goff via the Detroit Lions
Nearly everyone in Lions land knew that Jared Goff was going to be the team’s starting quarterback in 2021. Holmes was part of the group that traded up to land Goff with the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 and the new Lions GM coveted Goff as part of the return in the Stafford trade. By not selecting a quarterback in the entire draft weekend, Holmes erased any doubt that Goff will be under center for Detroit in at least 2021. We can probably extend that out to at least the first half of 2022 now with a pretty high degree of certainty. This is Jared Goff’s team, and Holmes quite clearly wants it that way.
There was no urgency to win right away
The Lions entered the draft weekend with the NFL’s weakest roster at two key positions: safety and wide receiver. Other than adding Amon-Ra St. Brown on Day 3 (and scoring Jonathan Adams as a prime UDFA), the Lions did nothing to address those massive holes. A team concerned with winning right away would not leave those critical positions in such dire straits. That’s not these Lions. Holmes and his crew opted for a longer-term vision of building the roster, establishing a new foundation rather than spackling the broken walls and rearranging the furniture to try and hide the holes. The 2021 season is likely to be a long one for Detroit, but that’s part of the Holmes plan.
Positional versatility is something the Lions covet
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
First-round pick Penei Sewell will be the team’s starting right tackle despite playing left tackle in college. He also would fit nicely as a guard with his power-oriented style and mentality. Both the defensive linemen taken on Day 2 can move around the inside of the formation. Onwuzurike and McNeill both have experience playing the nose but also playing as upfield rush tackles. At Washington, Onwuzurike even showed he could line up over tackles. St. Brown can play the outside receiver and was at his best at USC in the flanker role. But he’s also capable of playing from the slot and the split end receiver spots, too. There isn’t much fourth-rounder Derrick Barnes didn’t do as a linebacker at Purdue. He started as a rush EDGE and has ample experience playing as a SAM and even some as a MIKE. The versatility gives the new regime options for finding the best fit and also figuring out where the remaining holes might be on the roster entering the 2022 offseason.
They stayed true to the tendencies from their old teams
Earlier this offseason I researched the draft history and team-building tendencies of the three primary forces in choosing the Lions players: Holmes, Campbell and senior assistant John Dorsey. Those decision-makers stayed true to their pasts in several areas, an impressive dedication and shared braintrust for coming from three different organizations:
They did aggressively trade up for a target (Barnes) too, though it was not a move up for a quarterback.
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