Detroit Lions tried to trade up for DT Onwuzurike; sometimes 'draft gods smile on you'

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Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
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As the final few picks in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL draft came off the board Thursday, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes worked the phones trying to find a team willing to move down.

Holmes was shut out in his pursuit of a trade partner, but he got the player he was after anyway when Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike fell to the ninth pick of the second round.

"He was one that we felt like his skill set was worthy of being selected in the first round," Holmes said. "So we made a few attempts to get him, but sometimes the draft gods smile on you a little bit and bless you with what you were wanting."

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Levi Onwuzurike (center) of the Washington Huskies gets off the ball during the game against the Oregon Ducks at Husky Stadium on Oct. 19, 2019 in Seattle.
Levi Onwuzurike (center) of the Washington Huskies gets off the ball during the game against the Oregon Ducks at Husky Stadium on Oct. 19, 2019 in Seattle.

Holmes and the Lions spent Tuesday addressing needs on the defensive side of the ball.

They inquired about trading up Onwuzurike again in Round 2, but held tight at Pick No. 41, then grabbed North Carolina State defensive tackle Alim McNeill (No. 72) and Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu (No. 101) in Round 3.

Holmes said he did not consider trading down from any of his three picks as he had Onwuzurike, McNeill and Melifonwu targeted at each spot as the draft played out.

“It was more discussions of trading up, not only just for Levi but even when we got into Round 3," Holmes said. "There were times where we were thinking, should we move up to get our guy? But again, only coming into the deal with six picks, we were just trying to make sure that we stayed patient, stayed disciplined and trusted our board."

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The Lions, who have two picks remaining Saturday, one each in Round 4 and 5, spent their first three choices on linemen Penei Sewell of Oregon, Onwuzurike and McNeill.

Holmes said that was more a product of how the draft fell than it was a targeted approach he entered the weekend with to build through the trenches.

"We get players that we love," Holmes said. "We get players that we’re excited about. We don’t say like, 'OK, we have to get this defensive lineman, we got to get this nose tackle because those are the positions that we need.' No, we just get football players that we’re really excited about and that we’re hot on and so that’s kind of really (what) it boils down to and it just so happens it’s the same position on the defensive line."

Wide load

One position that Lions have not addressed yet that remains a significant need is wide receiver.

USC receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of the top players left at the position entering Day 3 of the NFL draft.
USC receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of the top players left at the position entering Day 3 of the NFL draft.

The Lions passed on players like Purdue's Rondale Moore, Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge and LSU's Terrace Marshall at the top of Round 2, then saw five receivers come off the board between their third-round picks, including Michigan's Nico Collins, Auburn's Anthony Schwartz and North Carolina's Dyami Brown.

"Well, the draft’s not over with yet, so yeah, there’s obviously going to be some opportunities to add some players (Saturday) and we’ll just see how that falls," Holmes said. "We won’t anchor ourselves still, we won’t pass up good football players, but there’s other positions outside of wide receiver that can still help us."

A total of 15 receivers were taken in the first three rounds, but the position is considered one of the deepest in this year's draft. Among the players still on the board entering Saturday are USC's Amon-Ra St. Brown, Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace and South Carolina's Shi Smith.

The Lions have the seventh pick of the fourth round, No. 112 overall.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions tried to trade into Round 1 for DT Levi Onwuzurike