Lions general manager Brad Holmes couldn't contain his excitement on the first night of last year's NFL Draft after turning in the selection of tackle Penei Sewell with the No. 7 overall pick. Holmes nearly took down team president Rod Wood with a giant bear hug as he went around the room celebrating the pick.
That excitement on draft night was certainly well founded with the year the rookie tackle had in Detroit. Sewell showed maturity and versatility being able to start at both left and right tackle, and playing both at a really high level.
He stepped onto the field Day 1 as an elite run blocker with size and athleticism. Sewell is a superior athlete for 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, and that showed in the run game. He finished as the 10th best run blocker among the league's tackles by Pro Football Focus grading, and played a big part in the Lions finishing the season 11th with an average gain per rush of 4.42 yards.
"Penei, yes he is what we thought he was going to be," Holmes said this week. "And, Penei is only going to get better. I mean, for what he was able to do being a left tackle in college and opting out and is coming in as a right tackle and then (Taylor) Decker goes out and he goes to left and Decker comes back and he goes back to right. I mean, him and (Atlanta tight end) Kyle Pitts were the youngest guys in the draft. He's only going to get better."
One of the areas where Sewell identified this week as an area he'd like to improve this offseason is his pass blocking.
"I want to be more fluid," he said. "I want to be more consistent out there. Those are the things I'll be working on the most."
There's definitely a good foundation to build on in that aspect of his game. There was a two-game stretch Weeks 4 and 5 against Chicago and Minnesota where he allowed two sacks in both contests. But Sewell allowed just one sack from Week 6 through his last start of the season Week 17 (he missed the final game of the year due to illness and a thumb injury). Over that same stretch, he never allowed more than two quarterback hurries in a game.
In 16 starts as a rookie, Sewell allowed five sacks and eight quarterback hits total.
"Not good enough at all," Sewell said, when asked how he thought his rookie season went. "There was a couple games where I kind of struggled, but I had to go through it. Coach Campbell said that it'll just help me grow as an individual and a player and everything with that. So, I'm looking forward to next year."
It's that kind of attitude from a young player that has to excite coaches, teammates and fans. Sewell doesn't just want to be good, he wants to be the best. If it's true that players take their biggest leap in development from year one to year two, just what kind of player will Sewell be in 2022?
It's no wonder Holmes was so excited on draft night. In Sewell, the Lions look to have a Pro Bowl caliber foundational player for years to come.