Lions draft two in 3rd round: DT Alim McNeil, CB Ifeatu Melifonwu

With the first of their two picks in the third round, the Lions drafted a second defensive tackle – Alim McNeil out of North Carolina State at 72nd overall.

Then with the 101st overall pick (from the Rams), the Lions selected cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse) on Friday night in the NFL draft.

In the second round the Lions had drafted defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike (Washington). 

All three picks on Day Two are on the defensive side after selecting right tackle Penei Sewell in the first round on Thursday.

“We get players we love, we get players we’re excited about,” GM Brad Holmes said afterward.

Holmes seemed pleased with all three additions. He liked Onwuzurike so much he thought about trying to trade up to make sure they could get him. No trade was made, but the football gods were with Holmes.

“He’s a scheme fit, very explosive, very talented. He’s one I identified early in the process back in 2019,” Holmes said.

McNeil said he feels the Lions are trending in the right direction.

“I really think something special is brewing here and I can’t wait to get it going,” McNeil said in a Zoom call with the media.

McNeil talked with several teams, but recalls his discussions with the Lions.

“I remember it was a great meeting I loved every minute of it. I remember they were really impressed on how I interviewed with them as well, overall it was just a great meeting,” McNeil said.

McNeill, who is 6-2 and 317 pounds, made an impact as a true freshman in 2018 (24 tackles, 5.5 for loss, with 3.5 sacks, three pass breakups in 13 games, one start). 

As a sophomore, he started the final eight games of the year (28 tackles, 7.5 for loss, with 5.5 sacks in 12 total appearances). 

McNeil’s progress continued in 2020, when he became a second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-ACC selection (26 tackles, 4.5 for loss, one sack, one interception) while starting in 10 of 11 appearances. 

Melifonwu, a big, athletic and versatile corner at 6-foot-2 with a 42-inch vertical, doesn’t know specifically what role he will play in Detroit.

“I feel like my size and athleticism definitely helps a lot just because I feel like I might be able to make up for things other corners can’t. Honestly it’s just a plus — having a technique and having athletic ability go along with. I think it helps me in a lot of areas,’’ Melionwu said on a Zoom call with the media.

His brother, Obi, was selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of UConn. With a five-year age difference Ifeatu’s older brother has helped push him along the way. 

He said he wouldn’t describe his relationship with his brother as a rivalry but more motivational. After his brother was drafted Ifeatu counted down until it was his time for the NFL. 

“It really pushes me to go harder in every aspect not just in the athleticism and drills like that, film room, getting my body right – everything, it’s an overall motivator,’’ Melifonwu said. “My goal is to be better than him, beat his numbers and that’s exactly what he wanted me to do.”

After a redshirt season at Syracuse, he showed promise despite missing four games due to injury (15 tackles, six pass breakups in nine games as a reserve). Melifonwu missed two games with a lower-body injury in 2019, as well, but led the Orange with eight pass breakups in nine games (eight starts) while also recording 18 tackles and intercepting two passes.

He started all 11 games in a shortened 2020 season, garnering third-team All-ACC honors (55 tackles, three for loss, one interception, nine pass breakups). 

The Lions two remaining draft picks for Saturday when the action starts at noon.

Round 4: No. 112

Round 5: No. 153

Lions draft DT Levi Onwuzurike in second round

From what we know of Lions head coach Dan Campbell, it seems pretty obvious from a short Zoom conversation, that second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike is his kind of player.

If he hasn’t chewed on kneecaps, he may have come close.

The Lions selected Onwuzurike, a 6-3, 290-pound defensive tackle from Washington, with the 41st overall pick on Friday night.

Meet the Lions’ newest defensive tackle.

“I like f’ing people up. I like to get off the line and just put my helmet or my hands on an offensive lineman and f’ up an offensive scheme, pretty much. I like pushing ’em back 2, 3 yards and just making ’em feel like shit,’’ Onwuzurike said on a Zoom call describing his style of play. (Note, he did not say f’ing he used the full word and did not apologize.)

Got that?

He is ready to go with the Lions. “I’ll hop on the field right now if I have to,’’ Onwuzurike said.

The defensive tackle said he and Campbell talked a lot during the pre-draft process including at the Senior Bowl.

Because he played in the Pac-12, he has played against right tackle Penei Sewell from Oregon, the Lions first-round draft pick.

“He’s an elite player, he’s a dog for sure. He was the first tackle out, first O-lineman out. He deserves all that — one of the quickest players I’ve ever played against, very balanced, very big, but he also has an athletic build, he’s almost like a tight end at the tackle position. He’s elite, we’re going to make shit happen up in Detroit,’’ Onwuzurike said of Sewell.

Onwuzurike only had 7 career sacks in college so he’s been working on his pass-rush skills.

“Everything I practiced on in the offseason from bend to pad level to everything. At the end of the day it’s about production, it’s about putting pressure on that quarterback and making that happen so your other players can succeed as well,’’ Onwuzurike said. “I’ll work to take that next step.”

The scouting report on Onwuzurike from Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline said: “Onwuzurike showed the ability to be a game changer at Washington, occupying blocks, penetrating the line of scrimmage, and even getting out in space to make plays. He comes with a large upside, but must finish his game to grab hold of the starting job in the NFL.”

The Lions remaining draft picks:

Round 3: No. 72

Round 3: No. 101 (from Rams)

Round 4: No. 112

Round 5: No. 153

Detroit Lions draft: Five things to know

With the Lions in full rebuild, re-stocking mode, the NFL draft could not possibly be more important.

Is it a bigger deal than in recent history? Quite possibly.

It will be the first major test GM Brad Holmes and his staff including Chris Spielman. Don’t forget Holmes was the director of college scouting for the Rams before Detroit hired him, so this is not all foreign territory.

Unlike a year ago, when GM Bob Quinn and his staff each worked from their houses due to the pandemic, Holmes will have company with up to 10 people in the war room with him. 

With the No. 7 pick, Holmes could have plenty of options. The key to a trade is it takes two teams. This sounds basic, but if he doesn’t move up or down and gets criticized it doesn’t mean he didn’t try.

The Lions have six draft picks overall. 

Round 1: No. 7

Round 2: No. 41

Round 3: No. 72

Round 3: No. 101 (from Rams)

Round 4: No. 112

Round 5: No. 153

The draft opens on Thursday at 8 p.m. Rounds 2 and 3 will take place starting Friday at 7 p.m. The draft for the remaining rounds will start at noon on Saturday.

Five things to know:

1. The Lions desperately need a No. 1 wide receiver but will they take one in the first round? Options include Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) and Ja’Marr Chase (LSU). Detroit has quite a history of making this move. From 2003 to 2007 they used their first-round picks on wide receivers four times. Charles Rogers (2003) was an absolute bust. Calvin Johnson (2007) is a Hall of Famer. Since Johnson, they’ve drafted three tight ends in the first round but no wide receiver. Holmes said he’s well aware of the franchise’s draft history but it should not affect who he picks.

2. Needs abound on both sides of the ball. In a pre-draft press conference Holmes would not say whether he’ll focus on offense or defense in the first round. It doesn’t make sense to limit himself. So don’t be disappointed one way or the other. This team needs work.

3. A quarterback could be a more likely pick in the first round. With Matthew Stafford gone and Jared Goff in his place, the Lions could be looking for a long-term replacement at quarterback. Trey Lance (North Dakota State) is one option. Would Ohio State’s Justin Fields be a reach at No. 7? There’s some debate on that. Quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Zach Wilson (BYU) and Mac Jones (Ohio State) could go 1-2-3. If Holmes loves one of them it could be costly to try to move up.

4. Taylor Decker said this week he’d welcome help on the offensive line. Several mock drafts have Oregon’s Penei Sewell getting drafted by the Lions. From 2012 to 2018 the Lions drafted four starting offensive linemen: Riley Reiff (2012), Laken Tomlinson (2015), Decker (2016) and Frank Ragnow (2018). Only Decker and Ragnow are still with the Lions. Reiff signed with the Bengals and Tomlinson with the 49ers. There is a need. Is Sewell the guy?

5. Holmes could pull a surprise, but don’t expect him to go too far off the charts. He said he’s learned from others that when that pick is called, he must be comfortable with the decision. It’s OK if no one has mocked that person to Detroit, but he sounds like he won’t take a flyer, he’ll be totally at ease that he’s made the right pick. 

PREDICTION: WR Jaylen Waddle, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.