Beat writer roundtable: Breaking down every Lions draft pick with those who know them best –

Posted: May 6, 2020 at 7:52 pm

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ALLEN PARK -- Millions of words have been spilled evaluating this years NFL draft class. Some are good, others are, well, you know.

But nobody knows these guys quite like the beat writers who have watched their games every week, talked to them in locker rooms, in some cases even seen them as high-schoolers.

With that in mind, weve brought together college beat writers who covered each of Detroits draft picks in college to get a more intimate feel for what exactly the Lions are getting in their 2020 class -- a class that is expected to play an immediate and pivotal role in Detroits chances of getting this thing together under Matt Patricia.

Without further ado ...


Position: Cornerback

School: Ohio State

Hometown: Grand Prairie, Texas

Size: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds

Pick: First round (third overall)

Analysis from Ari Wasserman of The Athletic: "Maybe you dont believe in recruiting stars, but Jeff Okudah is the type of player who proves their worth. A physical cornerback with length, Okudah looked like a future first-round draft pack when he was a five-star prospect in high school in the Dallas area because he has the prototypical body. But at Ohio State, he exceeded expectations in every other realm of being a football player, most notably with his desire to achieve the greatness his recruiting profile promised.

"Okudahs hunger to be the next great Ohio State defensive back turned into a dominant season with stats that seem made up. Okudah allowed only six receptions the entire 2019 season of more than 15 yards (all of which happened while he was playing off-coverage) and he was flagged only once the entire season (for a late hit in the Michigan game). That means no pass interference calls. With his long arms, fluid hips and next-level footwork, there was no chance he was going to come off the board after No. 3 overall, even if there were some rumors that Detroit was considering trading down. At a place like Ohio State, which has had eight cornerbacks selected in the past seven drafts, including six in the first round, Okudah may be the best of all of them from attitude to reliability to, of course, production.

A week after Okudah arrived at Ohio State, he lost his mother, Marie, to lymphoma. Though he told me he never wanted to be defined by the loss of his mother -- or any tragedy -- he used the discussions he had with his mother as a child and through his recruitment to fuel his vision. Okudah is one of the more down-to-earth stars youll find in college football, and when it comes to character, there is nobody you can put ahead of him. Obviously there have been plenty of NFL Draft busts in the past, but when you talk about the total package, Okudah is the perfect type of player and person on which you want to stake the future of your franchise.

Ari Wasserman covers Ohio State football and recruiting for The Athletic. You can find him on Twitter here, his work here, and his deep-dive on Jeff Okudah here.

Related: The Lions may have missed an opportunity, but gained a star in Jeff Okudah


Position: Running back

School: Georgia

Hometown: Philadelphia

Size: 5-foot-8, 212 pounds

Pick: Second round (35th overall)

Analysis from Seth Emerson of The Athletic: "DAndre Swift came to Georgia with the odds stacked against him seeing the field much as a freshman with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel back for their senior seasons. And yet by the end of that season, the one in which Georgia would come out of nowhere to nearly win the national championship, it wasnt just a two-headed monster in the backfield. Swift had willed himself into making it a three-tailback attack.

"Thats the kind of talent that Swift brings to the Lions. When healthy, he is dynamic, explosive and a difference-maker. And one who perhaps doesnt get his due at Georgia, simply because of the illustrious tailbacks that preceded him. Yet it is he who now holds the program record for most average yards per carry (6.56). Swift finished his career seventh on Georgias all-time rushing yards list, despite sharing time with Chubb and Michel as a freshman, Elijah Holyfield (a fellow 1,000-yard rusher) as a sophomore, and being occasionally nicked up as a junior, including one injury that limited him to just three carries in Georgias final two games. He still finished the season with 1,218 rushing yards, fourth-most by a junior in Georgia history.

"And its not just running the ball. Swift caught 73 passes for 666 yards and five touchdowns over his three college seasons. And it probably shouldve been more, but for whatever reason he wasnt as involved as he could have been in the passing game. His frame -- 5-foot-9 but strong (215 pounds) and fast -- made him seemingly ideal for getting the ball in space.

But when called upon, Swift could also bang the ball straight ahead for yards too. He was the home-run threat who ended up succeeding more on singles and doubles. There was an under-appreciated consistency to Swift, who didnt rack up huge games -- his career high was 186 yards -- but never rushed for fewer than 70 yards in any game where he had at least 15 rushes. (He was 12-for-12 in that category.)

Seth Emerson covers Georgia football and athletics for The Athletic. You can find him on Twitter here, more of his DAndre Swift analysis here and more of his overall work here.

Related: Why we liked the Lions draft so much


Position: EDGE

School: Notre Dame

Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.

Size: 6-foot-4 252 pounds

Pick: Third round (67th overall)

Analysis from Pete Sampson of The Athletic: "On his own, Julian Okwara is a typical third-round draft pick with more assets (length, natural strength) than deficiencies (senior year production). What makes him interesting in the context of the Detroit Lions is how different he is from his older brother, Romeo.

"Both were developmental prospects when they came to Notre Dame, but Romeo was a broad-shouldered athlete and completely raw as a pass rusher. He was introspective and thoughtful, a mature personality when he showed up. Julian is more of a slender build and able to beat offensive tackles one-on-one regularly. Hes also more a free spirit whose maturity was so much in question early that Brian Kelly joked that the idea of him being a senior captain was laughable.

"But the Julian Okwara heading to Detroit has grown up through both success and failure. He was a terror as a junior and one of the few Notre Dame players who looked the part against Clemson in the College Football Playoff. But he never quite launched from there, missing on personal goals of All-American status and double-digit sacks. Even before his broken leg suffered against Duke in early November, Okwaras senior season felt disappointing. He finished with just four sacks, one against Bowling Green and the other three against Virginia. He failed to impact Notre Dames bigger games against Georgia, USC and Michigan.

Okwara comes to Detroit aware that last fall created questions about his game. But that self-awareness should serve him well in the NFL. For whatever he wasnt last fall, theres a reason why so many saw him as a potential first-round pick after his junior year.

Pete Sampson covers Notre Dame football and athletics for The Athletic. You can find him on Twitter here and more of his work here.

Related: Julian Okwara blown away by opportunity to play with brother in Detroit


Position: Guard

School: Ohio State

Hometown: Media, Pa

Size: 6-foot-3, 306 pounds

Pick: Third round (75th overall)

Analysis from Ari Wasserman of The Athletic: "Jonah Jackson spent the majority of his college football career on a team that couldnt compete with its counterparts in the Big Ten, which made his move from Rutgers to Ohio State so dramatic. He went from being a captain at one of the worst programs in America to the new guy at one of the best.

"But Jackson blended into Ohio States culture immediately and more than filled his role as a plug-and-play guy. Not only was Jackson a serviceable starter, which was Ryan Days intention for him, he became one of the best interior linemen in college football.

If you want to know why the Lions traded up for Jackson, its because of his long arms, large hands and his strong, powerful build, and his versatility to play both guard spots or even center. He is NFL-ready after playing five years of college football and should be ready to compete for a starting spot in the interior offensive line in Detroit.

Ari Wasserman covers Ohio State football and recruiting for The Athletic. You can find him on Twitter here and more of his work here.

Related: The Lions traded up to go get Jonan Jackson in the third round


Position: Guard

School: Kentucky

Hometown: Madison, Ala.

Size: 6-foot-6, 317 pounds

Pick: Fourth round (121st overall)

Analysis from Jon Hale of the Courier-Journal: "No one around Kentucky's program talks about Logan Stenberg without first mentioning his passion and intensity. Even before he developed into an All-SEC lineman, Stenberg was singled out by teammates as one of the fiercest competitors on the team.

'It makes me laugh because hes a big dude with a pony tail, so its hard to take him serious,' linebacker Denzil Ware once said of Stenberg. "but when he puts his hand down and comes off the ball, its like a big train coming to get you. You got to be careful what you say to him, because he might end your life.'

"As Kentucky redefined its offense around a smash-mouth run game that saw running back Benny Snell (Steelers) become the programs all-time leading rusher and Lynn Bowden (Raiders) lead the SEC in rushing last season, Stenberg became the key cog in the offensive line that paved the way. Interior linemen might not generally be a priority in the draft, but UK coaches have been convinced for some time Stenberg will have a long NFL career.

Stenbergs main area of improvement is clear too. That emotion and intensity too often resulted in personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties during his senior season. He likely would have played almost every important snap if he had not been removed from games a few times out of fear of a penalty stalling a drive. How well he can harness his natural intensity in a positive way will say much about his NFL success.

Jon Hale covers Kentucky football and athletics for the Courier-Journal. You can find him on Twitter here and more of his work here.

Related: Lions get bigger, whole lot nastier with first back-to-back guard picks since 1978


Position: Receiver

School: Wisconsin

Hometown: Macon, Ga.

Size: 6-foot-1, 202 pounds

Pick: Fifth round (166th overall)

Analysis from Jesse Temple of The Athletic: "When Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst was asked last season about the impact receiver Quintez Cephus had on the team, he generally cited Cephus infectious personality rather than on-field stats. Cephus was called a connector because of his natural ability to bring people together from different backgrounds, and that kind of positivity likely will be noticed in an NFL locker room. Of course, a big reason the Lions drafted Cephus is because of how he can help the team between the lines. What Cephus brings is a physical presence and a willingness to do the dirty work that helps the team.

"Cephus was Wisconsins go-to pass-catching threat last season, and it wasnt even close. He was targeted a team-high 94 times, 50 more than any other player on the team. He also was targeted 62 times on snaps in which he lined up out wide, according to Sports Info Solutions, one more than all the other Badgers wide receivers combined. He was at his best in the biggest moments late last season, which included catching seven passes for 122 yards against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. That performance prompted Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, now Cephus teammate as the Lions No. 3 pick in the NFL draft, to declare at the NFL combine that Cephus was the best wide receiver he faced in college.

Cephus completely changed the dynamic for Wisconsins offense because he was a consistent downfield presence. But he also was a willing blocker and could be seen out in front on several occasions springing teammates down the sideline on jet sweeps to the edge. His 4.73-second 40-yard dash at the combine raised questions about his speed, but he did drop that number to 4.56 seconds at his pro day. The former high school basketball star (who almost went to Furman on a college basketball scholarship) can make up for any shortcomings with top-end speed with his body positioning, strength and ability to grab the ball at its apex in traffic. He can make tough catches, does not go down easily and should be an asset for the Lions.

Jesse Temple covers Wisconsin football for The Athletic. You can find him on Twitter here and more of his work here.


Position: Running back/returner

School: New Mexico State

Hometown: Arlington, Texas

Size: 5-foot-8, 182 pounds

Pick: Fifth round (172nd overall)

Analysis from Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun News: "As far as Jason Huntley off the field, he was always a quiet guy who went about his business on the football team and as a student. At the same time, he was very confident of his ability and always a student of the game.

"For example, he predicted over 200 yards and three touchdowns prior to a home game against rival UTEP this year, then he went out and did it. He also knew exactly where he stood in terms of school records and really wanted the NCAA kickoff return record last year.

"His speed is why I believe he was picked up where he was, and that should translate to an NFL field. He has told me he has been working on punt return since he left school, which is something he did not do in college. Most of his receptions were swing passes out of the backfield. When he lined up in the slot, he mostly ran drags, outs and vertical routes, so Im not sure how that would translate at the NFL level.

One of the things that stood out to me the most was durability. Hes a smaller player, but I dont think he was ever injured or even missed a practice, despite his usage greatly increasing the past two years.

Jason Groves covers New Mexico State football and athletics for the Las Cruces Sun News. You can find him on Twitter here and more of his work here.

Related: Early pro day performance helps Jason Huntley land in Detroit


Position: Defensive tackle

School: Utah

Hometown: West Jordan, Utah

Size: 6-foot-1, 313 pounds

Pick: Sixth round (197th overall)

Analysis from Chris Kamrani of The Athletic: "John Penisini is a hard man to move. Hes also a very big man. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 330 pounds during his days at Utah, Penisini thrived as one of the Utes run-stopping defensive tackles. Against the run, he was one of the best nose tackles in the Pac-12, routinely plugging gaps and taking the pressure off his fellow defensive linemen. Thats why he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL draft.

"He will help the Lions win the line of scrimmage, which is obviously a priority for a defensive-minded head coach in Matt Patricia. NFL scouts loved Penisinis motor and were routinely impressed by his unrelenting approach to the game. His coaches always said: John Penisini does not stop. And when you have a defensive tackle on the inside who does not give up on plays, that means hell allow someone else to flourish.

He needs to improve on his pass-rushing skills and develop moves beyond relying on his pure brute strength up the middle. But if he stays healthy, theres no reason he cant be a rotational inside presence for Detroit. He is as laid back as they come, too, a friendly and cordial defensive tackle who should have no issue assimilating in an NFL locker room.

Chris Kamrani covers Utah football and athletics for The Athletic. You can find him on Twitter here and more of his work here.


Position: Defensive tackle

School: Ohio State

Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.

Size: 6-foot-3, 287 pounds

Pick: Seventh round (235th overall)

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Beat writer roundtable: Breaking down every Lions draft pick with those who know them best -

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