Grading the Detroit Lions’ selection of DT Levi Onwuzurike

Pride of Detroit

The Detroit Lions made a bit of a surprise with their second-round pick, going talent over need. Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike is a talent many believed was going to go somewhere in the Round 1-2 range, but not many had the Lions as a possible landing spot.

So was this a mistake? Were there better fits for Detroit still on the clock? Or did the Lions just get a sneaky-good player with solid value?

Here are my grades for the Lions’ second-round pick:

Talent

Onwuzurike got significantly better each year at Washington as his career developed, first as a rotational piece in 2017 but culminating as a full-time starter in 2019 (before opting out in 2020). His final year at Washington saw him get named first-team All-Pac 12 after tallying 45 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, and a heck of a PFF resume:

Though he mostly played at nose tackle, his twitchy play and solid athletic profile suggest he could play as a pass-rushing 3-tech. And although his sack numbers were low in college, his pass rushing grade was top-10 in the nation, suggesting he was a consistent disruption for opposing quarterbacks.

Still, it feels like much of Onwuzurike’s draft stock is projection here. He’s never been a completely game-changer at the college level, but it sounds like the Lions are banking on him having a more productive NFL career potentially at a different position.

Talent grade: C+

Value

Value is a tough thing to judge. If we base the Lions’ pick off of media projections, this was right around the time many expected him to go. Most had somewhere between a first and third-round grade on him. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had him 29th on his big board, while PFF had a Round 3 grade on him.

However, value also takes into account who else was on the board at the time. TCU safety Trevon Moehrig was available, as was Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.

That being said, the Lions likely got the second-best defensive tackle in a very thin DT class, so there’s something to be said about getting a good body at the middle of the defensive line while they still could.

Value grade: B

Need

While defensive tackle didn’t make my list of the Lions’ top-five needs, let’s not kid ourselves: the Lions have needed an interior pass rushing threat for years. The Lions can’t wait for Da’Shawn Hand to develop forever, and Nick Williams only has one more year on his deal.

In fact, Michael Brockers and John Penisini Penisini are the only defensive tackles signed beyond this year, so Onwuzurike figures to be one key piece of the defensive interior’s future.

Need grade: B-

Overall

This is undoubtedly going to be one of the more unpopular picks simply because of who was still left on the board. But considering defensive tackle wasn’t the team’s biggest need, it’s clear the Lions went with the player they thought had the most talent, and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to suggest they may have gotten the best player on the board.

That being said, there is some significant risk here. Because of his opt-out season, we didn’t get to see his full growth at Washington, and he doesn’t have crazy production numbers at the college level. If Onwuzurike meets all of his potential, this could be a steal, but it may take some time.

Overall grade: C+

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