Lions go big again, take 'explosive' Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike in Round 2

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

A day after drafting Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round, the Lions addressed their defensive trench with the No. 41 overall pick and selected Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike in the second round.

"The trenches are arguably the most important position groups in football," Onwuzurike said in a conference call Friday. "It's an honor for me to be playing for the Lions. I think the Lions are trying to build (something) right here and we got two good parts to build that."

Levi Onwuzurike

Lions general manager Brad Holmes acknowledged late Friday the team coveted Onwuzurike on Day 2 and even explored trading up to secure their target. Ultimately, they stayed put and felt fortunate he was still on the board. 

"The guys in the draft room did a heck of a job about keeping me tempered to practice a little bit more patience, because he’s one that was highly sought after," Holmes said.

Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds at his pro day, Onwuzurike is considered a quick, penetrating interior lineman, directly addressing one of Detroit's bigger roster deficiencies. 

"I just think it's disruptiveness," Onwuzurike said when asked what the Lions are getting in him. "Disruptiveness and speed, just messing up offensive schemes and playing how I played in college, but at a higher level."

Like Sewell, Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season. In 2019, he tallied 45 tackles, including six behind the line of scrimmage. In three seasons with the Huskies, he tallied seven sacks. 

"The Huskies moved him around in their scheme, but I believe he's best suited as a 3-technique, on the edge of the guard," former scout and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote. "He has an explosive first step and very quick hands against the pass. He flashes a twitchy slap/swim move, but there are times when he doesn't have a plan and gets stuck.

"He can drive interior blockers right back to the quarterback when he comes off the ball with his pads low to the ground. Against the run, he plays much bigger than his size. He can stack single opponents with one arm and refuses to stay blocked. He has lateral range and his effort is phenomenal."

Effort and grit have been the focus of Holmes and coach Dan Campbell as they shape the roster in their vision. 

Onwuzurike also mirrors his coach's personality. Campbell, who famously used biting off kneecaps as a metaphor for the toughness and resiliency he intended to coach, adds a defensive lineman who enjoys playing with malice. 

"I like to get off the line and just put my helmet and my hands on an offensive lineman and (mess) up an offensive scheme," Onwuzurike said. "I like pushing them back 2-3 yards and just making them feel like (crap)."

Among the analyst comparisons for Onwuzurike are former first-round pick and Pro Bowler Sheldon Richardson and Justin Madubuike, a third-round pick from a year ago. 

"Very strong, very explosive," Holmes said. "You know, really, I like to say that he’s a balanced player. He’s stout at the point of attack and he’s got the ability to rush inside so we’re really, really fired up about him."

Onwuzurike is the second major addition to the interior of the team's defensive line, following the offseason trade for Michael Brockers. Nick Williams, a free agent last offseason, and John Penisini, a sixth-round draft pick in 2020, round out the projected rotation. 

Prior to Detroit's pick there were four trades in the early stages of the second round. The Jaguars kicked off the evening by grabbing Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell.

Other players who came off the board ahead of Onwuzurike on Friday night were wide receiver Elijah Moore, running back Javonte Williams, safety Jevon Holland, offensive lineman Landon Dickerson, defensive tackle Christian Barmore, offensive tackle Teven Jenkins and safety Richie Grant.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers