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What the Lions are getting in DT Levi Onwuzurike

Lions get a versatile defensive lineman who wants to beat up his opponent

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions continue to bolster the trenches, opting to upgrade the defensive line on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL draft by selecting Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike.

The Washington Huskies use their defensive lineman differently than most, opting to use their most athletic big men as close to the ball as possible in an effort to gain an advantage. Onwuzurike played nose tackle for the Huskies during the 2018 and 2019 seasons—he opted out of the 2020 season—but projects a 3/5-technique in the NFL.

Because he played out of position, Onwuzurike doesn't have high level stats you get with most top-50 defensive lineman, as Washington often asked him to hold his gap to create space for other athletes behind him. While that would hurt him on a lot of team’s draft boards, that team-first mentality fit right in with the culture Detroit is looking to build.

While Onwuzurike’s experience makes him a very capable 2-gapper, he believes that his best trait is as a 1-gapping “disruptor” and his play on the field backs that up. At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, he leans on his first step to gain penetration often beating the offensive lineman to the spot, and when he is engaged, he has a variety of options to beat his opponent.

Onwuzurike’s hand usage is elite. They are quick, powerful, and active, and he hits his opponents like he is trying to hurt them. When offensive linemen adjust and prepare to absorb his blows, he will hit them with a spin move and leave them behind him. He will get too high at times, but with some technique coaching, it’s a correctable flaw.

Against the run, Onwuzurike’s lighter frame will often hurt his anchor, but he understands leverage, and when he combines technique and power properly, he is more than capable of holding his gap, even against double teams. When he is one-on-one out at the 5-technique, he is more than capable of setting the edge. If the Lions want to be able to use him at the 0/1 at times, he may need to add some weight but he has a frame to do that.

While Onwuzurkie has several physical traits that make him an appealing player to take at pick No. 41, his mental makeup is what likely drew Detroit to him. He has terrific football instincts and understands what is happening outside his field of vision, routinely sniffing out draws and screens. But it’s his ability to outwork his opponent and desire to bury the man across from him that likely had the Lions coaches drooling.

Expect Onwuzurike’s primary role to be rotating with starters Trey Flowers (3/5T) and Michael Brockers (4i), while competing with Nick Williams and Da’Shawn Hand for snaps. But he is also capable of spelling John Penisini at the nose.