Lions rookie expectations: Sewell at right tackle, bigger role for Jefferson

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Coming off of their bye week, the Detroit Lions head to Pittsburgh with the hopes of earning their first win of the season.

The Lions have 11 rookies on their active roster and a good portion of that group will be major contributors for the team against the Steelers.

First-round pick Penei Sewell could be shifting to right tackle with the return of Taylor Decker. Decker is currently listed as questionable to appear in the game against Pittsburgh. Sewell had started all eight games at left tackle while Decker was on injured reserve. Throughout training camp and the preseason, the rookie out of Oregon had been taking first-team reps on the right side of the line despite never playing the position in college. Sewell has committed six penalties and allowed four sacks so far this season.

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

On the defensive side of the ball, Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill have been used as rotational linemen throughout the first half of the season. Onwuzurike’s share of snaps has risen steadily throughout the year but he has yet to make a significant impact for the Lions. The 2021 second-round pick has 13 total tackles and one quarterback hurry on the season. He will get in the defensive line rotation at the 5-technique/defensive end role.

As for McNeill, he will share his reps at nose tackle with John Penisini. The third-round rookie has started four games there for Detroit and has been a reliable lineman for the team. He is averaging two tackles per game, so expect limited production from the rookie against Pittsburgh.

(AP Photo/Al Goldis)

One of the weakest position groups for the Lions is their wide receiver corps. Even with no clear number-one receiver and minimal talent at the position, rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown still has yet to reach his full potential with this offense. He is currently averaging just 31 yards per game and has yet to record his first NFL score. With the addition of Josh Reynolds, St. Brown may have even less of a role on offense.

(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

Linebacker Derrick Barnes has seen a more increased role since the release of Jamie Collins earlier this season. He has since had three starts at inside linebacker and has 34 tackles on the year. Barnes is expected to start alongside veteran Alex Anzalone as the MIKE linebackers.

Running back Jermar Jefferson has the best chances of any rookie to have an increased role against the Steelers. With starter Jamaal Williams ruled out, the Lions will have to rely on Jefferson to be the downhill compliment to D’Andre Swift. Jefferson has 29 total yards and one touchdown thus far, but those numbers could see a heavy increase as Pittsburgh has allowed over 100 rushing yards per game this season.

The Lions have two undrafted rookies who are expected to start in the secondary. Jerry Jacobs will start at outside cornerback alongside Amani Oruwariye while AJ Parker is expected to reprise his role as the starting nickel cornerback. While it is not usually seen as a positive to have two undrafted rookie starters at cornerback, Jacobs and Parker have been pleasant surprises for Detroit’s defense.

Tight end Brock Wright has been used sparingly in the two games he’s been active for. Now with the release of Darren Fells and his promotion to the active roster, Wright is the only other tight end other than starter T.J. Hockenson. Expect him to be a non-factor in the receiving game, but used primarily as a run-blocker instead.

Undrafted rookies Ryan McCollum and Mark Gilbert have not made much of an impact this season for the Lions. If they are active against the Steelers, they will not see much of the field outside of special teams.