The Detroit Lions entered the 2020 NFL Draft needing another pass rusher. They found one and this insider has compared his skills to that of Cliff Avril.
Heading into the 2020 offseason, one of the primary concerns surrounding the Detroit Lions was pass rush. This is a defensive unit that racked up a total of 28 sacks last year, which was tied for the second-lowest amount in the NFL.
The Lions stirred more concerns when they released linebacker Devon Kennard in March, a defender responsible for 7.0 sacks last season. In fact, Kennard was responsible for 14.0 total sacks over his two-year tenure in the Motor City.
Detroit attempted to replace that production by signing former New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins prior to Kennard’s release. A seven-year veteran, Collins recorded a career-high 7.0 sacks for the Pats last season.
But outside of the Collins for Kennard swap, the Lions did little to address their lack of pass rushers. Perhaps they figured their big free-agent signing from last offseason, defensive end Trey Flowers, might be able to build on his 7.0 sack performance from 2019.
Regardless, the Lions were expected to find themselves another pass rusher in the 2020 NFL Draft in late April. And although they waited until the third round, they found one in Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara, who was selected with the 67th overall pick.
A broken left fibula ended Okwara’s senior season prematurely. Yet, the younger brother of current Lions’ defensive end Romeo Okwara was still able to record 19 total tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in nine games. His junior season Okwara posted 39 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 8.0 sacks in 13 games.
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 252 pounds, Okwara possesses a lean frame that should be able to add more weight at the next level. As a comparison, his brother currently sits at 6-foot-4, 263 pounds.
According to NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein, who projected Okwara to be a second-rounder, says the rookie uses his speed to get around the edge and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But Zierlein also noted that Okwara must continue to work on his arsenal of pass-rushing moves and become a much better run defender.
"“Avril was a speed rusher, as [Julian] Okwara is expected to become. Avril was a steal in the third round. He had a 4.51 40 at the Combine and used that speed to rush the passer – 39 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in five seasons with the Lions before signing with Seattle as a free agent in 2013.”"
After a five-year career with the Detroit Lions, Cliff Avril would leave to join the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and help them earn a victory in Super Bowl XLVIII later that same season. Undoubtedly, the Lions are hoping to find similar success with Julian Okwara, with the exception he brings the Lombardi Trophy to Detroit instead.