Julian Okwara was mostly healthy and fairly productive last year, but does he have a breakout level coming in 2022?
After a 2020 rookie season where he played just six games while registering zero sacks and just three tackles, Julian Okwara took a step forward in 2021 (five sacks, nine quarterback hits, six tackles for loss in 13 games via Pro Football Reference).
With the additions the Lions have made to their edge rusher mix, most notably No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, there are questions about how Okwara will fit. A professed move toward using more four-man fronts invites the idea he’ll move to playing some off the ball as a linebacker. It’s a move he is clearly open to, and probably has to be open to if he wants to more easily secure a roster spot, based on his comments from OTAs this past week (via SI.com).
"Like I said even last year, it feels like I play a lot of different positions and the coaches like using me in a lot of different situations, so I feel like I was open for the challenge,”"
Julian Okwara–a sneaky 2022 breakout candidate?
Jack McCarthy of The 33rd Team has made a list of unexpected NFL breakout candidates in 2022. While they aren’t strictly ranked, Okwara led off the list.
"Okwara improved his sophomore season in 2021 with 5 sacks, 12 hurries, and 4 QB hits. That’s good enough for a 76.8 pass rush grade by PFF with a 16.2% win rate. Okwara showed the pass rushing ability and despite adding edge rush in the draft, look to find Okwara progress even more and make a bigger impact in 2022."
Even amid a lot of competition for snaps at the edge spots as well as at off-ball linebacker, there’s a place for the younger Okwara in the Lions’ defense as a versatile player with untapped potential entering his third NFL season. As for a “breakout” this year, the opportunity to post numbers that’ll easily fit that bill will be tough to come by.