Lions rookie expectations: St. Brown poised for breakout game
No team in the NFL has had great luck regarding both injuries and COVID-19 issues. The same goes for the Detroit Lions, who are missing double-digit starters due to these aforementioned issues.
To remedy that situation, Detroit has had to ask a lot of their 2021 rookie class this season. Many of these young and inexperienced players have been thrown into starting roles and will need to play well if the Lions plan to beat the Seattle Seahawks.
Wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Javon McKinley
No player has been better set up for success than rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown.
The Lions recently placed receivers Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, as well as tight end Brock Wright, on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. With all of the other top options out, St. Brown is poised to have a huge game.
Backup quarterback Tim Boyle is expected to start in place of the injured Jared Goff, but this won’t negatively impact St. Brown. The two have connected 13 times for 109 yards and a touchdown in the two games where Boyle has started.
With no other reliable receiving options, expect St. Brown to be the first read on most plays. Odds are, the rookie won’t be leaving the field when Detroit is on offense.
Undrafted rookie Javon McKinley was just called up from the practice squad and will serve as extra depth at the wide receiver position. He will likely be the last man on the depth chart and, if active, will mostly play on special teams.
Running back Jermar Jefferson
Jefferson has been the odd man out in the running back room all season and will be even more so against Seattle. The rookie has been inactive for multiple games this year and has now been pushed even farther down the depth chart due to the emergence of Craig Reynolds.
Now with D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams both back and healthy, Jefferson may not play another snap in 2021.
Offensive linemen Penei Sewell, Ryan McCollum, and Tommy Kraemer
There’s not much left to say about Penei Sewell. The 2021 first-round draft pick has been playing at an elite level at right tackle while facing off against some of the NFL’s top pass-rushers. With a fully healthy offensive line, Sewell should have a great game against Seattle.
As mentioned earlier, all five starters for the offensive line are healthy and ready to play. This means that backups Ryan McCollum and Tommy Kraemer won’t likely see the field other than on field goal and extra point attempts.
Defensive linemen Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding these two rookie defensive linemen as both are facing the same dilemma. McNeill and Onwuzurike have played well in limited roles but have not been able to surpass several veteran players.
Things may change for Onwuzurike as starting defensive end Michael Brockers is out on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. The second-round pick out of Washington has played in all but the first game of the season and has 31 tackles and one sack to his name.
McNeill will share his reps at nose tackle with John Penisini but expect the rookie to see some extended looks on defense after his strong performance last weekend.
Good news for both rookies – The Seahawks have allowed the fifth-most sacks in the league this season. If the two want the chance to prove they can be long-term starters on the defensive line, this is their best opportunity.
Linebackers Derrick Barnes and Tavante Beckett
With Alex Anzalone and Josh Woods on injured reserve, Derrick Barnes has the chance to start at inside linebacker. The issue he faces is that the coaching staff does not seem to have confidence in him holding a bigger role. Barnes earned his first career sack on the first play of the game against Atlanta last weekend but failed to do much else.
Barnes has shown promise against the run and as a pass-rusher from the inside, but it is clear that he is not ready to drop into coverage against NFL talent.
In college, Barnes only had one season of experience at off-ball linebacker and may need some more time to adjust to the position. Expect the Lions to alternate between him and Anthony Pittman at middle linebacker alongside Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Tavante Beckett was called up front he practice squad for the second week in a row. He was only used on special teams in his first bout of NFL action and the same can be expected from him this time around.
Defensive backs Ifeatu Melifonwu, AJ Parker, Mark Gilbert, and Brady Breeze.
With very few bodies left at the cornerback position, the Lions have turned to rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu to start at outside cornerback.
Melifonwu took every single snap on defense against the Falcons last week and is expected to again against the Seahawks. His performance was not the best, as he allowed three-of-four passes that came his way to be caught for an average of 22.7 yards.
Up against Russell Wilson and the volatile duo of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, Melifonwu hopefully can learn form his past mistakes and rise to the occasion.
Nickel cornerback AJ Parker should once again start at that position. The undrafted rookie has exceeded any and all expectations, amassing 43 tackles, one interception, and six pass breakups over the course of 11 games.
Rookies Mark Gilbert and Brady Breeze will serve as backups ta cornerback and safety, respectively. The two will primarily serve as special teamers on kickoffs and kick returns.
Kicker Riley Patterson
The Detroit Lions have finally found the answer to their kicking woes this season, and his name is Riley Patterson.
The rookie out of Memphis has been perfect on all 19 field goal and extra point attempts that he’s had over the course of five games.