Rookie Roles: Detroit Lions third-round pick, Julian Okwara

Julian Okwara, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Julian Okwara, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

In the seventh installment of ‘Rookie Roles’, we take a look at one of the Detroit Lions third-round picks, EDGE, Julian Okwara.

The Detroit Lions needed to address one major issue heading into the 2020 offseason. It wasn’t a specific position, it wasn’t a head coaching change (yet), wasn’t a GM firing (yet) … they just needed to somehow find a pass-rush.

While most thought it would come via a free agent signing or with their first-round pick. Instead, they rolled the dice and waited until the third-round of the draft to take their biggest swing of the offseason at a pass-rusher in EDGE/OLB, Julian Okwara out of Notre Dame.

For a team that was 29th in the NFL in pressure percentage in 2019, waiting until the third-round felt more like slapping some flex-seal on the Midland dam rather than actually fixing the problem. But hindsight hints that either luck or brilliance was working for Detroit on draft night when Okwara fell to third.

Okwara was projected to be a first-round pick after his eight sack and twelve and a half tackle for loss season in 2018. But a fracture to his left fibula after nine games in 2019 hurt his draft stock … and maybe saved the day for Lions general manager Bob Quinn. Before the injury, Okwara totaled nineteen tackles, seven of those for loss, and five sacks in nine games.

Natural Role?

Sometimes it’s hard to project the best role in the NFL would be for a player coming out of college … other times it’s fairly obvious. Julian Okwara falls into an obvious role as he’s great at one thing … running down the quarterback.

Whether that’s with his hand in the dirt or from a stand-up position, off-ball or on-ball, defensive line or outside linebacker, during the play or after the play … ok, maybe not the last one, but you get the point.

According to Pro Football Focus, Okwara had the highest pressure rate in college football the past two seasons at 19.1% … a full 1.5% higher than Ohio State standout Chase Young. It doesn’t get more natural than that.

Projected Detroit Lions’ Role?

The Lions 3-3-5 base defense only calls for one true down defensive end, and even that position has more gap responsibility than the majority of EDGE roles you’ll see in the NFL. The EDGE opposite of the true defensive end (Flowers) in their base in an outside linebacker (JACK) that can rush, play the gap, or drop back in coverage.

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At 6-4, 250lbs, Okwara a little small for a true defensive end in Matt Patricia’s defense anyway, at least this early in his career. So to me, it’s pretty clear Okwara will be part of the rotating JACK/OLBs replacing former Lion OLB/EDGE Devon Kennard’s role. Especially on passing downs.