After a disappointing rookie season, the Detroit Lions are eyeing a second-year emergence for Levi Onwuzurike.
Despite opting out of the 202 season at Washington, Levi Onwuzurike surfaced as a late first round pick in some 2021 mock drafts. With the 41st overall pick, in the second round of course, the Detroit Lions made him the first of their back-to-back defensive line draft picks (followed by Alim McNeill in the third round).
Onwuzurike played in 16 games as a rookie, with 35 total tackles and one sack over 396 snaps. Flashes of good play were followed by being a non-factor, as a lingering back injury surfaced in training camp and followed him into the season. Pro Football Focus graded him 119th of 131 defensive tackles who played at least 250 snaps last season (h/t to Pride of Detroit).
As the final week of last season approached, Lions head coach Dan Campbell noted Onwuzurike among two defensive rookies he was disappointed in.
"Levi is kinda what he’s been. He’s been up and down. He flashed. Man, he shows out, and the next play, it’s a learning experience. Next play, he shows out. Next play, it’s a learning experience,” Campbell explained “So there’s just some inexperience there that he’s still having to get over bumps in the road — which he will.”"
Lions expecting second-year breakthrough from Levi Onwuzurike
Onwuzurike has already put in work this offseason, which Campbell commented on last month. Via Justin Rogers of The Detroit News:
"He looks good,” Campbell said. “I know it’s early and we’re only in early April, but you can tell he’s been working. That says something. That says something to you, without saying anything.”As we all know, you don’t make any greater jumps than you do from (year) one to two,” “That is the greatest jump that most guys make. …So we’re expecting him to take a leap forward, you know? I know he’s of the right mindset."
In a conversation with Tim Twentyman of the Lions’ website, Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash added to the positive vibe around Onwuzurike.
"He knew he had to have a plan to take care of his body this offseason,” “That was the biggest thing. I know he played, he didn’t miss games really for the most part, but he was not healthy. He was battling through it. He’s been here (at the practice facility) every day and he’s looking jacked. I’m kind of excited about that one.”"
Health will be the key thing for Onwuzurike, as he played football last year for the first time in nearly two years due to the COVID opt-out of his final college season. With that should come a bigger role in his second season, and a schematic change up front should highlight what he does best. The Lions coaches clearly expect a second-year breakthrough.