The Detroit Lions and their abject failure of a 2020 season has come to an end.
If there are bright spots in a down season, it usually comes from blossoming, younger players who give hope for the future.
Now, it’s still very premature to evaluate former general manager Bob Quinn’s last draft class in Detroit, but there were definitely some growing pains.
These grades are not necessarily a projection of future success for the Lions' 2020 draft class, but more so how the rookies lived up to expectations based on the round in which they were selected.
1.) CB Jeff Okudah
Anytime a defensive back is taken with a top five draft pick, it’s assumed the player can make an immediate impact.
Corner is not the easiest position to transition to in the NFL. Yet, there have been a few recent examples on other teams of players that have done so.
Unfortunately, for Okudah, he was put in a horrible situation for any corner, let alone a first-year player.
Of all the rookie corners selected in the first three rounds, Okudah allowed the most passing yards per passing snap. Meanwhile, he had the highest Pro Football Focus grade for run defense. He excelled in that area.
However, coverage ability is why you draft a cornerback so high. It was a disappointing rookie season, but the talent is still there.
2.) RB D'Andre Swift
Swift’s electric running style was put on full display toward the end of the season. He was clearly the best back the Lions had to offer, and probably deserved the starting role sooner.
With the ball in his hands, Swift was able to make plays. Of the rookie back class, Swift had the most receiving yards (357).
In saying that, pass-catching was supposed to be a strength. Swift dropped four passes -- including a game-winner in Week 1 -- which was tied for the most for any rookie running back.
Forcing missed tackles and yards after contact was never a strength, but Swift was near the bottom in both categories.
Drafting a running back at the top of the second round was aggressive. Swift, though, definitely showed some flashes that are encouraging.
3.) EDGE Julian Okwara
It was another Okwara who made noise for the Lions this season.
Much like Julian's final season at Notre Dame, his rookie season was also derailed by injuries. Playing only 69 defensive snaps in 2020, there wasn’t much there to evaluate.
He totaled four pressures -- no sacks or quarterback hits -- on 41 pass-rushing attempts. Of all rookie EDGE defenders (34 players), Okwara had the second-worst overall PFF grade. Obviously, not ideal, but still not enough of a sample size to really make any conclusions.
4.) OG Jonah Jackson
Jackson was reliable for a good portion of the season. As a third-rounder, a full-time starter exceeds his draft position.
Playing the second-most snaps for any rookie interior lineman, Jackson did allow the most pressures of that group. And, when you average out pressures allowed per snap, he landed right around the mean.
The Ohio State product was slightly better in the run game. Paired with tackle Taylor Decker on the left side, they formed a solid duo.
After a hot start, Jackson may have hit a bit of a rookie wall toward the end of the year, though.
5.) G Logan Stenberg
Drafting Stenberg from a run-heavy offense, you knew he was going to be a bit of a project. Not the most fleet of foot and more of a big bruiser, his talents were never put on display.
Even when injuries forced the Lions to turn to their reserves on the inside of the line, Stenberg was nowhere to be found.
Early in training camp, Stenberg dabbled at center, and struggled.
Maybe his limited versatility played a factor in his absence from the field, but a fourth-round selection who can’t play over journeymen and practice-squaders is not what you want out of a player in year one.
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6.) WR Quintez Cephus
With Kenny Golladay missing most of the season, Cephus got a little more playing time than anticipated.
Looking at his play on the field, Cephus had a couple of relatively easy drops, but also a couple of big plays, as well. His 17.5 yards-per-catch average was the second-highest of the 41 rookie wideouts who saw playing time in 2020. His 120.4 passer rating when targeted was also fifth-best in the class.
Cephus’ athletic profile during the pre-draft process might not have been great, but he sure seems to be fast enough and well-rounded enough to have a role in the NFL.
And, next year, the Lions may need to rely on Cephus even more.
The big question will be if the pro-ready receiver will be able to improve, which is not always a given with a high-floor, low-ceiling type of prospect.
7.) RB Jason Huntley
Quinn waived Huntley before the season, and he ended up being claimed by the Philadelphia Eagles. Huntley just couldn’t find a role on the roster.
He made next-to-no impact with his new team. But, considering that the Lions got absolutely nothing out of Huntley, it’s an easy failure in terms of his time in Detroit. Not to mention, a lot better prospects at more pressing positions of need were passed on for Huntley at the time of the draft.
8.) DT John Penisini
For a sixth-round selection, Penisini played plenty -- the most of any Lions defensive tackle, actually.
Penisini was drafted to plug holes, and he did it well in his first year in the league.
He didn’t do much of anything in terms of getting after the quarterback, though, and that’s okay. That’s not what he was brought in for.
Penisini had the worst pass-rush efficiency rating of the 13 rookie interior defensive linemen who played in at least 20 percent of their respective team's pass-rushing snaps.
Again, don’t ask him to do something he isn’t good at, and use him to his strengths. At least, he has some valuable attributes that can be utilized in certain aspects of the game.
9.) DL Jashon Cornell
Cornell suffered an Achilles' injury in mid-August. His season ended before it even began.
He was probably on the outside, looking in for the 53-man roster. But, with expanded practice squads due to COVID-19, Cornell was almost a shoo-in to at least land there.
To be fair, a grade can’t be given.
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