'A cornerstone player': Lions fortify O-line, select Oregon's Penei Sewell with No. 7 pick
With the choice of a potential franchise quarterback or any defensive prospect in the class, the Lions opted to take who they felt is the best offensive lineman in the NFL Draft and selected Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round Thursday night.
"We knew it right when Miami made their pick, we knew exactly what was going down," Lions coach Dan Campbell told Fox 2. "We didn’t need to worry about anything else. That was our guy. This is a big man who can move. He has great feet, a temperament about him, an attitude and he’s a cornerstone player, man. He’s somebody you can build a team around and that’s exactly why we got him."
The addition of Sewell strengthens what is generally viewed as Detroit's best unit, where he projects as the starter at right tackle.
"Wherever they put me, I'm going to play, and I'm going to give it my all," Sewell said in a conference call shortly after the pick was announced. "To join a room like this, man, it's a blessing. To be a young dude and to come into such a veteran group with so many years (of experience), it's just easier for me to approach the game because I can go to them and ask them for advice and soak up as much knowledge as possible. Being a sponge around those guys will help out tremendously."
The Lions opted to take Sewell over Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, reaffirming the franchise's commitment to Jared Goff, whom the team acquired in last month's trade that sent Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams.
The addition of Sewell should also be viewed as a commitment to Goff. The 6-foot-5, 331-pounder won the Outland Trophy in 2019 as the nation's best interior lineman before opting out of the 2020 season. He was the first sophomore to win the award.
"I like to play real physical," Sewell said after his pro day. "I like to use my body type to my advantage and to really get up under people's chin and really showcase my mentality also, to go along with my physicality, that I'm coming off the ball every play with violent intentions and that nothing less is coming from that."
In addition to that self-described nasty streak, Sewell is impressively athletic and light on his feet. He allowed just one sack his two seasons as a starter, and none during his All-American campaign in 2019.
Sewell joins a young, talented offensive line consisting of two other former first-rounders in Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow. The rest of starting five is expected to be Jonah Jackson, a third-round draft pick a year ago, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Interestingly, in a recent interview, Sewell acknowledged he was a Lions fan growing up, becoming attached to the team while playing Madden against his brother.
"I was a big fan of Calvin Johnson," Sewell said. "Loved seeing him go up to get the ball. Also the running back they had at the time was Jahvid Best. I would just use them in Madden. My brother and I would have tournaments. I loved to use the underdogs. At the time, they had those two and I would just use them against my older brother or my little brother."
Sewell, who doesn't turn 21 years old until later this year, spent most of his childhood in American Samoa. His father coached football on the island, teaching his son the fundamentals of the game. When the family realized Sewell's athletic potential, they relocated to Utah when he was 12.
"I stayed in the small village of Malaeimi," Sewell said. "Man, we all stayed at the shack there, and just like you said, it's a beach. It's an island surrounded by nothing but water and probably you can hit the whole island in a 40-minute drive. It was real small, life was real simple.
"To come from that to where I'm at today, man it's nothing but blessings. Every time I reflect upon that after this moment on, it just makes me happy and puts a smile on my face to know that man, there's more to do and more to come."
Prior to Sewell's selection, the draft started as everyone expected, with quarterbacks coming off the board the first three selections. The Jacksonville Jaguars made Clemson's Trevor Lawrence the No. 1 pick, followed by the Jets taking BYU's Zach Wilson and San Francisco going with North Dakota State's Trey Lance.
The Atlanta Falcons broke the string of passers by snagging Florida tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4. It marked the earliest the position has ever been addressed in the NFL Draft, besting Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, who was taken with the fifth pick in 1961.
At No. 5, the Bengals opted to reunite quarterback Joe Burrow with his top target from LSU's 2019 national championship team, Ja'Marr Chase. During that run, the star receiver caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Putting the Lions on the clock, the Dolphins kept the run of pass catchers going, choosing Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle at No. 6. Like the previous pick, it reconnected college teammates, giving second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa an explosive receiving option.
Fields ended up falling to No. 11 where he was snatched up by the Chicago Bears. The Lions' NFC North rival sent a package of picks the New York Giants, including a future first-rounder, to move up nine spots and get their quarterback.