Who’s the Lions rookie most likely to bite kneecaps?
The new regime over the Detroit Lions is trying to force yet another culture change for the Motor City. This time one that better reflects the grit, resilience, and hard-nosed nature of the community and city it represents.
In his introductory press conference, new Lions head coach Dan Campbell memorably described the type of team he wanted to build in Motown. One that would be hard to knockdown. But if they were, they’d get back up and bite off a kneecap while doing so.
In the draft, the Lions selected many players that possess that type of bite and claw attitude. And it started with their first-round selection of Penei Sewell. The Oregon offensive tackle was described as gritty, dirty, and nasty by Campbell himself.
But of the Lions’ seven total draft selections in 2021, which one best embodies the “bite off a kneecap” mentality? Here’s a quote from the team’s second-round selection, Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, via The Athletic’s Chris Burke on Twitter.
"“I like f***ing people up. I like to get off the line and just put my helmet or my hands on an offensive lineman and f**k up an offensive scheme, pretty much. I like pushing ’em back 2, 3 yards and just making ’em feel like sh**.”"
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. As a junior at Washington in 2019, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Onwzurkie recorded 45 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks in 12 games.
Onwzurkie had near-identical numbers the year before, with 34 combined tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks in 13 games. That shows consistency, which is important as he was an opt-out in 2020.
NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein believes Onwzurkie could excel at being an NFL pass rusher due to his rare combination of light feet and heavy hands. Along with his fellow rookie in N.C. State defensive tackle Alim McNeill and the offseason addition of veteran Michael Brockers via trade, this new trio figures to transform the interior of the Lions’ defensive line instantly.
Last season, it was the trio of Nick Wiliams, Danny Shelton, and John Penisini that led the Lions from the same position. Wiliams started 12 games in 2020 for Detroit at defensive tackle, while the other two started 11 games each.
The Detroit Lions’ defense last season was the worst in the NFL. They allowed the most offensive yards in 2020 (6,716) and the most points scored against a team (519). The passing defense in Detroit ranked 30th while the run defense ranked 28th. There really is nowhere to go but up in the Motor City, so these changes in attitude and along the roster were very much needed and welcomed.