When the name “Okwara” is mentioned as an impact player for the Detroit Lions, everyone thinks Romeo Okwara. After all, the sixth-year defensive end is coming off his first season posting double-digit sacks (10.0), leading the Pride in that category.
Plus, Romeo’s name made headlines this offseason after Lions opted to make him a foundational piece for the new regime in Detroit by inking him to a three-year contract extension worth $39 million. Combined with playing alongside Trey Flowers, the introduction of a new defensive scheme, and a new cast of defensive tackles manning the middle of the line, Romeo Okwara could exceed his production from 2020.
But Romeo isn’t the only Okwara in the Motor City. The Lions made his young brother, Julian Okwara, their third-round selection out of Notre Dame last year. And if iron truly sharpens iron, Romeo could help Julian find similar success in Detroit.
Unfortunately, Julian’s rookie season wasn’t ideal. Not only did the young defensive end have to face the challenges of coming into the NFL in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, but his first year in Detroit was hindered by injury.
Landing on Injured Reserve in October, the rookie pass rusher played in only six games. Julian recorded a total of three tackles and a tackle for loss in just 99 snaps played, 30 of which were on special teams.
The 6-foot-4, 252-pound defender had a breakout season for the Irish as a junior in 2018. He recorded 39 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, and an interception in 13 games. Poised for a big senior year, a broken fibula limited Okwara to just nine games, posting 19 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks in 2019 while sinking his draft stock in the process.
Now entering his second season in Motown, here’s what Tim Twentyman wrote recently about the junior Okwara on the team’s official website, DetroitLions.com, after making him his choice for the under-the-radar player to watch in 2021.
"“Julian Okwara has flown under the radar … but heading into his second season, he could be poised for an increased role along the edge. The former third-round pick battled injury as a rookie last season, playing in only six games total. He’s healthy, has a good mentor in older brother Romeo, and we normally see a significant increase in production from players going into their second season.”"
No one knows what to expect of the Detroit Lions defense under new first-time defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. And while there have been various additions made to this unit in the offseason, the development of second-year defenders like Julian Okwara and cornerback Jeff Okudah could be at the very heart of any potential turnaround.