Lions draft notes: Barnes' lions pride; St. Brown motivated by drop and more
The Detroit Lions added seven players via this year's NFL draft and we've had you covered every step of the way with stories, columns, analysis and multimedia.
Still, it's still tough to squeeze in everything that happened this weekend, so here are some leftover happenings and anecdotes from the Lions' big weekend.
► Penei Sewell has been on the radar for Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley for quite some time. Back in 2017, when he was working in the same role at UCLA, he was leading the program's push to land Penei, a top high school prospect out of Utah.
Despite heavy interest during the recruiting process, Sewell remembered his interactions with Fraley.
“Yeah, without a doubt, because he was one of the very few coaches who actually came out to St. George, Utah, to watch a high school game," Sewell said Saturday. "I remember the game that I was playing in, it was against Pine View at Pine View. To see him there meant something, and I knew he was different because he was one of the few that only did that. He only stayed until halftime, but we had a conversation before that.”
► When the Lions selected T.J. Hockenson in the first round of the 2019 draft, much was made of the tight end's socks, an homage to his favorite move, "The Lion King." As it turns out, linebacker Derrick Barnes, a fourth-round selection this year, also has a thing for lions.
The Purdue product's commitment is a little more permanent. He has a massive tattoo of a lion covering the right side of his chest.
"My favorite animal," Barnes said. "I think the lion is the king of the jungle. Heart of a lion, that’s what I say I have. You know, loyalty, just power, and just leadership. I think that’s all the strengths I grew up having. Always been a fan of the lion."
► Detroit's second-rounder, defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, had a colorful video conference with reporters on Friday night, so much so that the transcript sent out by the team included 11 "expletive" edits.
The team's media relations department has their work cut out for them dialing back Onwuzurike's energy and enthusiasm, but it doesn't bother general manager Brad Holmes or coach Dan Campbell one bit. In fact, they found the excerpts amusing.
"I heard his press conference was pretty explosive," Holmes said. "...I saw something on Twitter, and I know Dan (Campbell) and myself got kind of a kick out of it. That’s just an excerpt, so I don’t know really how far it got. At least it showed that he is a passionate dude, which we already knew.”
► Holmes' attitude is reflective of a more relaxed culture under the new regime. Prior to start of the draft, Campbell told the team's website they had set up cornhole boards outside the war room to help alleviate some of the stress of the event.
Team president Rod Wood had the boards custom designed and brought in. It might seem like a small thing, but you have to remember, former coach Matt Patricia made it a point to eliminate things like cornhole and ping pong from Detroit's locker room.
Holmes, asked about the cornhole board, noted an emphasis being placed on having fun, in addition to working hard.
► Both Onwuzurike and Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, but they got the chance to share the field as Pac-12 rivals in 2018 and 2019. Even though Sewell started at tackle and Onwuzurike largely operated from an interior alignment along Washington's defensive line, he definitely had high praise for his now-teammate.
“Oh yeah, he’s an elite player," Onwuzurike said. "He’s a dog, quick. ... One of the quickest players I’ve ever played against. Very balanced, very big, but also has an athletic build. He’s almost like a tight end at the tackle position. He’s elite, so we’re going to make (expletive) happen up in Detroit."
► The Lions drafted two younger brothers of current NFL players in Ifeatu Melifonwu and Amon-Ra St. Brown.
The age gap between Ifeatu and brother Obi, a second-round pick in 2017, is the bigger of the two at nearly five years. Obi had an impressive showing at the scouting combine the year he came out, posting one of the best vertical jumps in the event's history.
The younger Melifonwu used that performance as motivation, plugging a timer into phone that counted down to the 2021 combine. Unfortunately, that event ended up being canceled, but Ifeatu still delivered a strong performance at Syracuse's pro day, even if he failed to leap as high as Obi.
St. Brown's older brother, Equanimeous, was a sixth-round draft pick by the Packers in 2018.
► The University of Michigan actually made a run at Melifonwu coming out of high school, but made their pitch too late.
“I was committed to Syracuse at the time, and Michigan came in real, real late, like five says before signing day," he said. "At the time, I was very comfortable with Syracuse, with their coaches and their staff, Coach (Dino) Babers, just my recruiting class, as well. I was overall just comfortable and I knew, I took a look at Syracuse’s roster and I knew that I had a chance to play maybe two years in after my redshirt year. And Michigan, I don’t think they would have let me redshirt and that’s one of the things I wanted to do coming into college."
► With St. Brown, both he and his two older brothers have unique names. His father John, a world-class body builder who twice won Mr. Universe, didn't want his sons to have standard names.
"He didn't want us to be anything like a Joe or John like he was," St. Brown said. "He wanted us to have different names. He wanted us to stand out. My name, Amon-Ra, is the Egyptian sun god. It's an Egyptian name. My other two brothers, Osiris, is the Egyptian god of the underworld, and Equanimeous comes from the word equanimity. So all three of us, he was trying to think of ways to make us different and names were something he was very into. He thought there was power in names."
► How mad was St. Brown that he fell to Day 3 of the draft? He decided to fire up the Jugs machine in the family's garage to blow off some steam on Friday night.
"Like I said, I'm competitive, I'm a dog," St. Brown said. "Last night, I had a bittersweet feeling in my mouth and it just made me realize I have to go harder. I'm glad that the Detroit Lions drafted me, but this is just the starting point for me. It's the beginning of a chapter for me. I'm going to go in and work hard and give them everything I've got."
► Lions center Frank Ragnow, fresh off his first Pro Bowl selection, and owner Sheila Ford Hamp, each announced one of the team's draft picks.
Ragnow introduced the selection of third-round defensive tackle Alim McNeill live from Cleveland, the host of this year's draft. Prior to reading the name on the card, the former first-round pick flashed the inside of his suit jacket, which was lined with a lions pattern.
Ford Hamp, who took over ownership when her mother Martha Firestone Ford stepped down last summer, announced the selection of Barnes from the team's practice facility in Allen Park.
► Holmes was asked if the Lions would ever consider using the 320-pound McNeill, a former high school running back, as a fullback.
"I don’t think that he would turn it down," Holmes said. "I know he’s a confident kid that’s a really good athlete. But I believe that his running back days are behind him. I guess I will check with (offensive coordinator) Anthony Lynn and see if he has anything up his sleeve for Alim."
I think I speak for everyone when I say, "Please, Anthony."
► The draft is a long, draining event that starts early in the morning and ends late a night for three consecutive days. A lack of sleep is part of the deal, but it was enough to concern Holmes' mother, who texted him on Saturday morning and told him to get some rest.
"Hopefully I can get (to bed) early tonight," he said. "My mom always gives me the bags-under-my-eyes test and kind of gives me hell for that."