Rookie report: Lions’ 2021 class flashes potential in loss to Falcons

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Atlanta Falcons
    Atlanta Falcons
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Detroit Lions
    Detroit Lions
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Derrick Barnes
    Derrick Barnes
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|

While the Detroit Lions may have come away with another loss, there were many plays that should make people feel optimistic about the future of this team. The members of Detroit’s 2021 rookie class are slowly getting integrated into the team’s game plans and many of them had contributions in the 20-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Right tackle Penei Sewell once again put on a stellar performance. Backup quarterback Tim Boyle didn’t feel a lot of pressure throughout the game and finished the day without getting sacked. Sewell committed one false start penalty in the second quarter, but it didn’t have much of a negative impact on the drive.

On the defensive line, Levi Onwuzurike once again was underutilized, taking just 21 snaps on defense throughout the game. This far into the season, it’s puzzling as to why he’s not getting more reps over some veterans like Nick Williams and Michael Brockers, whose contracts expire after the season ends. The rookie finished the day with just two tackles.

Onwuzurike may have not had the best outing, but another rookie defensive lineman really showed up against Atlanta. Third-round pick Alim McNeill started the game strong at nose tackle and got his second career sack on the first drive of the game. But just like with Onwuzurike, McNeill did not get a fair share of reps despite his strong performance. The rookie took 19 snaps on defense and is credited with just one tackle and a sack.

At the inside linebacker position, the Lions were down Alex Anzalone and Josh Woods. While it was expected that rookie Derrick Barnes would get the most reps in that role, it was instead backup linebacker Anthony Pittman. Barnes opened the game with a sack on Matt Ryan but was taken off the field shortly after, being replaced by Pittman. He took a mere 14 snaps on defense but managed to make three tackles. He has showed a lot of potential, but it’s clear the coaching staff does not have confidence in him as a starter just yet.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was the best player on offense for Detroit on Sunday. The versatile rookie took snaps as an outside receiver, a slot receiver, and even as a running back. St. Brown led the team in both receptions and yardage, with 91 yards on nine catches. He also took two carries for 19 yards. His biggest play of the game was a 20-yard touchdown reception where he gained yardage after the catch and muscled his way through several Atlanta defenders to get into the end zone.

Cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu had his first game since Week 2 and didn’t come off the field on defense. Melifonwu played every snap at outside cornerback and had five tackles on the day.

Nickel cornerback AJ Parker saw less action on defense than he’s had this season. He only played for about half of the game but had one highlight-reel play. On a third-and-long attempt by the Falcons, Parker was able to get in front of a pass from Matt Ryan and bat the ball down, forcing Atlanta to punt.

Tight end Brock Wright was on the field for the majority of Detroit’s offensive snaps, primarily as a blocker. While he wasn’t used much in the passing game, he had some huge contributions on many of the team’s big plays. Essentially serving as an extra lineman, Wright laid out some key blocks and helped the offense move the ball efficiently.

Undrafted rookie tight end Shane Zylstra had a heartbreaking day. Called up from the practice squad, he started to be integrated into the offense but went down with a knee injury in the third quarter. Zylstra was carted off the field while being comforted by his teammates.

Kicker Riley Patterson had yet another perfect day. The rookie made all three field goal attempts, with his longest going for 37 yards. His made his lone extra point attempt as well.

Rookie offensive linemen Ryan McCollum and Tommy Kraemer only saw the field for Patterson’s four kick attempts. Rookie defenders Mark Gilbert, Brady Breeze, and Tavante Beckett were minor contributors on special teams and Gilbert took just two snaps at cornerback.