Levi Onwuzurike: What scouting reports said before the draft about the Lions DL

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With the No. 41 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions selected Washington defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike. The Lions were so enamored with Onwuzurike that GM Brad Holmes admitted he tried to trade up earlier in the draft to ensure Detroit would get him.

What did the scouting reports from before the draft say about Onwuzurike?

Here’s a sampling of some of the more popular and respected draft resources and what they thought of the 23-year-old, 6-foot-3, 293-pound lineman before he became a member of the Lions.

NFL.com

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The league's own in-house evaluation comes from analyst Lance Zierlein, who saw both positives and negatives with the Washington lineman. The positives include quickness, upper-body strength and a balanced spin move, countered by negatives that include playing too tall and not shedding blocks well. Considered by some scouts as a "flash" prospect with high-end moments on tape, but a lack of sustained excellence and production. Onwuzurike is undersized for his position but he’s very strong for his size with the ability to anchor down against interior blockers. He's very physical and flashes moments where he is able to control and overwhelm single blocks. An explosive first step provides early momentum into the neutral zone, but he failed to post the high-end production that is usually associated with that interior trait. He's light on his feet but heavy with his hands, and that combination should lead to continued improvement as an NFL pass rusher. If he can play with the same grit we saw against Oregon and USC in 2019, Onwuzurike has a chance to become a disruptive starter in an attacking front. Onwuzurike earned a second-round grade and a comparison with veteran Sheldon Richardson, who has played both end and tackle quite effectively for many years across a few teams.

The Draft Network

(AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)

Labeling Onwuzurike as an "eventual starter", the analysts at The Draft Network saw a lot to like. Levi Onwuzurike aligns as an interior defensive line prospect. He has excellent overall athleticism and demonstrates good body quickness as a pass rusher. The way he plays with exceptional leverage helps him to excel as a run defender. As a result, he is extremely difficult to single block. He is disciplined with his technique to maintain gap control. He demonstrates the toughness and emotional endurance to play in the trenches every snap. He was their top-rated interior defensive lineman and the No. 36 overall prospect.

Ourlads

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ourlads scouts weren't as high on Onwuzurike as many others were. The primary quote from early in the evaluation says why, Mainly responsible for interior penetration that stemmed from his speed and burst with ability to twist and turn his body. There was a lot of inconsistency on tape with his technique however. His pad level was all over the place despite having enough flexibility in his knees and ankles and it forced him into a lot of ineffective snaps. Onwuzurike was the No. 6 defensive tackle in their rankings. Interestingly, Lions third-round pick Alim McNeill was significantly higher at No. 2 along the DL. The fourth/fifth-round grade stemmed from the inconsistent play and poor pad level. There were some positives, however, Has a quality athletic profile with a wide frame that should be able to handle more muscle mass. A disruptive interior pass rusher who can make himself thin and slippery along the inside gaps. Shows fast and twitchy hands when engaged with the blocker. Explosive closing burst when he gets near the ball. Can bend well at the ankles. Versatile tool set that will play more stout than he looks. Inconsistent when it comes to the skill set.

Pro Football Focus

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

PFF was all over the map with its evaluation of Onwuzurike...and the wild fluctuations in his play are a big reason why. In their series of positive and negative bullet points, Onwuzurike's evaluation runs the full gamut. The positives:

  • One of the most explosive defensive tackles in the country. Can fly off the line.

  • Pop behind his hands. When everything fires in unison, he's tough to handle.

  • Not much fat on his frame. Rocked up for a defensive tackle.

  • Often played out of position at nose tackle yet still graded out well.

And the negatives:

  • Late to react play after play. Dominant reps come too few and far between.

  • One-hitter as pass rusher. Doesn't combo into second move if his first stalls.

  • Still needs to pack on mass. Pigeonholed into 3-technique at current size.

  • Production stalled as full-time starter, then opted out in 2020.

PFF graded him as a third-round pick and its No. 83 overall player, one spot behind Washington teammate Joe Tryon, who was the final pick of the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Athletic/Dane Brugler

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran evaluator Dane Brugler at The Athletic was one of the most bullish on Onwuzurike. Onwuzurike was Brugler's No. 2 defensive lineman and earned a first/second-round designation. The scouting report consistently cites the quickness and athleticism, as well as how much effort Onwuzurike gives on every rep. A two-year starter at Washington, Onwuzurike lined up primarily as a nose tackle in Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake’s 'multiple' defense after he was pressed into the starting lineup as a sophomore due to injury. His stat sheet isn’t much to brag about, but he rarely lined up outside the guards as the scheme asked him to occupy blocks and open pass rush lanes for his teammates. Onwuzurike fires off the snap and consistently makes plays away from his gap due to his effort and athleticism. While calling him active doesn’t do him justice, he tends to rush tall and scattered, allowing him to be redirected by blockers. Overall, Onwuzurike needs to show a more leveraged attack and stay off the ground (and stay healthy), but he is a twitchy big man with fast and physical hands and flashes NFL starting traits as a three-technique tackle.

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