Scouting Detroit Lions DT John Penisini

Daniel Kelly

Names such as Joe Klecko, Greg Lloyd, Jay Novacek and Super Bowl MVPs Tom Brady, Terrell Davis and Mark Rypien remind us all there are good players still to be found in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. 

And this year, the Lions seem to have found something themselves in the sixth round in the form of defensive tackle John Penisini out of Utah.

While it is too early to put him in the class of players who made it from his draft round, Penisini, at least, had enough of what it takes to make Detroit's 2020 roster. 

For the first three games of this season, Penisini worked his way into the Lions’ rotation, and spotted nose tackle Danny Shelton, who’s on his third different team in four years. 

Shelton is still more polished, and Penisini has a ways to go before unseating him permanently. 

But still, he is making his presence felt and in a big way, because he is a force to be reckoned with.

Penisini played sparingly in the first three games, but made the most of every opportunity and he made his first NFL tackle when an Arizona running back basically ran into the Penisini wall.

ESPN logged it as an assist. But, when I watched the film, to me, it looked like he made the tackle. 

In Week 4 against the Saints, he did not make SportsCenter. 

But, he did make a highlight reel of his own, checking in with five total tackles -- one solo and four assists. 

Right off the bat, too, the Saints found out the hard way of what it is like to run into the Penisini wall. 

Guys like this can become the very thing folk stories and cult followings are made of. 

And during the second quarter of the New Orleans game, a Saints running back found his way into the end zone. 

But, holy smokes, the way Penisini landed on top of him was straight out of WWE wrestling. It is like he came off the top rope and fell on top of that guy, like someone dropping a bowling ball on top of a packet of McDonald’s ketchup.

Penisini was also on the field at the very start of the Jacksonville game last week, alongside Shelton. 

He made his presence felt in that game, too. 

There is something to this guy. 

I have watched every snap he has played this season. He is coming on, and coming on rather quickly. And it sort of feels like the coaches are gaining confidence in him when I watch the game film. 

He is playing more and more, and I know he is growing on me. 

At 6-foot-2, 325 pounds, there is just a whole lot to love.

Billy Hardiman, USA TODAY Sports

He is also someone who tries hard, which is a good example for the team. 

And sure, there are deficiencies in Penisini‘s game, and he has some developing to do -- that is why he did not go early in the draft. 

But, there’s a lot there to work with, mainly his attitude and level of effort. And that cannot be coached. 

As the old saying goes in football, “The game is won or lost from the neck up.” 

He is just a pleasant surprise to write about, after having to write about inconsistent veterans (i.e. Harmon and Collins). 

Without further ado, here's my scouting report on the caretaker of Robert Porcher’s jersey number. 

#91 DT/NT John Penisini - 6-foot-2, 325 pounds 

Grade: C+ (average; nothing special about the player)

A thick, stout, compact, strong and physically unpolished, limited area player with a consistently high motor. Broad shoulders. Thick arms. Big midsection. Big bubble. Big, thick legs. Extremely strong. Low center of gravity. Sub-package player who looks like a wave on the ocean coming off the snap. Rolls. Does not have any twitch or raw explosiveness at the point of attack, but does look like someone who can push the sleds in practice up and down the field. 

He is a real handful for offensive linemen. Draws double teams sometimes. Fighter. Has zero pass-rush ability or moves, but can get a moderate push into the pocket with brute force. Battles. Great and consistent effort. I love his effort. Easy player to like. Lunch-bucket type. Just works. Seems more natural as a NT than DT. Would excel in a base 3-4. A hold-the-point grinder.

Against the run, he really struggles to consistently disengage, but seems to be getting a little better as the season has progressed. Needs a lot of work in that area. Does his best to hold ground and clog up areas, but is prone to get washed down the line of scrimmage or get cut-blocked. Can get tipped over. Sometimes is slow looking to react. 

The best way to attack him is to leverage him from the side and to not play into his natural strength and power straight-up. Slow-footed. Does not have abilities outside the box. 

However, he's a real presence on the field. Punishing tackler when he gets his chance. Showed some visible fire and emotion. A guy like this can quietly hang around and play for 10 years in the league. A player with real upside, in terms of grade -- and with a little polish. A borderline "B-" player. 

Kudos to Detroit GM Bob Quinn and the team's scout(s) that pounded on the table for this guy.

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Comments (3)
No. 1-3
Andria m
Andria m

I think he is benefiting from learning from Danny Shelton and Nick Williams & the other veterans on defense


Penisini and Jackson have been the best rookies


So far the rookie has been impressive