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Sunday open thread: Will Levi Onwuzurike or Alim McNeill play more snaps in 2021?

Which rookie DT will see the field more often?

Oregon v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions wanted to build in the trenches, and they certainly achieved that in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Offensive tackle Penei Sewell is obviously the prize of the draft class, but with their next two picks, the Lions went defensive tackle. A position of weakness, Michael Brockers was the lone solid starter along the interior. Most, if not all, of the remaining players have concerns heading into next season, such as Da’Shawn Hand (can he stay healthy?) and John Penisini (can he be more than a run stuffer?). If things turn out well, they could have two formidable young talents for years to come.

Levi Onwuzurike was drafted in the second round, and the Lions might have drafted him sooner than that if given the chance. Onwuzurike projects as a 3- and 5-technique in the NFL, and he will likely fill that role with the Lions. His primary competition for the role is Hand, who has yet to return to his superb rookie form.

The other rookie brought in was Alim McNeill in the third round. McNeill is a nose tackle with some pass rushing abilities, a pleasant change of pace from the pure run-stopping nose tackles of yesteryears. His biggest competition is Penisini, but as mentioned, McNeill brings pressure than Penisini does not. The tandem should be exciting pieces for the new coaching staff to work with.

However, their role in the defense is still up in the air.

Training camp is still to come, and that will be our first true opportunity to see how the defensive line is shaping up. Based on some clues—and outright statements from coaches—it seems that the Lions will run a primarily 3-4 defense, but will switch it around in subpackages. This has a big impact on players like Trey Flowers, who could get looks at outside linebacker, but it will also impact Onwuzurike and McNeill.

Barring any injuries or lackluster performances, McNeill will slot in at nose tackle in the base package with Onwuzurike playing outside. In subpackages, however, McNeill might be relegated to the bench in favor of Romeo Okwara and Flowers on the outside and Brockers and Onwuzurike along the inside. This isn’t a slight at McNeill, but more so playing everyone to their strengths. If McNeill can show some pop as a pass rusher, late down opportunities might arise for him.

With both tackles looking to be an important part of the defense this season, which player will garner more looks?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Will Levi Onwuzurike or Alim McNeill play more snaps in 2021?

My answer: I think McNeill will play more snaps.

On paper, teams play out of subpackages more often, which seems to favor Onwuzurike over McNeill. While this might be the case for the Lions in 2021, I don’t think Onwuzurike will be guaranteed more snaps. I believe he faces stiffer competition than McNeill. Hand’s issue hasn’t been ability, but availability. He flashed as a rookie, but hasn’t been healthy since. If he can stay healthy, a rebound could happen. Penisini performed decently as a sixth round rookie last season, but he has a low ceiling and might not be more than a run-stuffing rotational piece. That isn’t bad value for a late round pick, but I think it means McNeill could see a majority of the nose tackle snaps. Given how excited I am about him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him thrive either.

Working against the Lions is also their whole roster. The Lions defense struggled mightily in 2020, and that led to them being behind in many games. The 2020 Lions aren’t a great example due to bad play and injuries, but Penisini led the defensive tackle group in snaps played. While the coaching staff is hopefully improved—can’t get worse, right?—I still think this team will struggle to win games in 2021. This means the Lions will be behind, likely early and often, and that could mean opposing teams running the ball more frequently. This would mean more snaps in the base package, and therefore more snaps for McNeill. Coupled with a rotation for Onwuzurike, and I think we might see more from the nose tackle.

Which rookie DT do you think will play more this season?

Your turn.


Will Levi Onwuzurike or Alim McNeill play more snaps in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Levi Onwuzurike
    (513 votes)
  • 39%
    Alim McNeill
    (331 votes)
844 votes total Vote Now