Dan Raley has covered University of Washington football since 1987.
He answered five questions regarding Levi Onwuzurike, the Detroit Lions' second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
1.) What are the Lions getting in DL Levi Onwuzurike?
Dan Raley: I’ve encountered all the great defensive linemen who have come through Husky Stadium -- among them Steve Emtman, a No. 1 overall draft pick and the catalyst for the national champs, plus Super Bowl champion Vita Vea, a pair of eventual Detroit Lions players in Danny Shelton and the late Reggie Rogers and now Levi Onwuzurike.
Unlike those other guys, Onwuzurike sort of snuck up on us. Oh, we knew Levi was good. After all, he came all the way from Texas to the Great Northwest to play his college football. Yet, he was sort of laid back and fun to talk to, whereas those other guys often had steam coming out of their ears.
It wasn’t until the end of the 2019 season that we realized just how good Onwuzurike was. The two EDGE rushers that played alongside him in Joe Tryon and Ryan Bowman piled up huge TFL (tackles for loss) and sack totals, and were each named second-team All-Pac-12. Tryon, of course, was a first-round draft pick for Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Levi was their set-up guy, the man who controlled the middle, far more explosive than we knew … until the league coaches voted him first-team All-Pac-12 as a junior.
2.) What are his biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Raley: Onwuzurike has natural strength and quickness that quite possibly is underestimated by everyone. He looks too fit to be a dominator. Of all the others who came before him at Washington, those defensive linemen were well over 300 pounds. They were big and a little sloppy-looking. Shelton, for example, might be 60 pounds heavier than Levi.
Onwuzurike is the new-age Weight Watchers defensive lineman. He’s always kept his weight around the 290 level, with very little fluctuation. He doesn’t need any more size to manhandle opponents. His inherited physical attributes work for him just
Want a weakness? We thought it was his pleasant, laid-back personality. He likes to laugh. He’s someone we all liked to interview, because he might say something funny. There wasn’t any tension in our interactions. He wasn’t a fire-breather. We wondered if he should be.
3.) Do you believe his claim that he's the best DL in this year's draft class?
Raley: Best defensive tackle in the draft?
Onwuzurike said it, and we all did a double-take. Was this his pro football personality coming-out party? He’d never said anything like that in three seasons of media interplay, never promoted himself as a Husky football player.
So, was he wrong?
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Yes, but not by much. Only Alabama’s Christian Barmore was
drafted in front of him, but only by three draft slots.
We’ll have to see who among Barmore and Onwuzurike gets on the field first as a serious contributor -- maybe who starts first or makes their team a winner.
Then, we can readdress Onwuzurike’s boldness and see if he had this figured out all along.
4.) What are one-two things that fans of the Lions might not know about their new defensive lineman?
Raley: What you need to know about Levi is he’s from Texas. He’s "Friday Night Lights" through-and-through. He played in an 18,000-seat high school stadium. Played for the state’s biggest high school, Allen, in the Dallas suburbs. Played with quarterback Kyler Gordon, now of the Arizona Cardinals. Won state championships. Won 57 consecutive games.
What this means is you can’t rattle him. You can’t make him nervous.
Intimidate others, though, and make them feel like underdogs? That’s what he and Gordon and all the others did to everyone else.
5.) What is the best way the Lions can utilize his skills along the defensive line?
Raley: Over the past few decades, few teams have had much running success against Washington defenses -- until last November.
When Onwuzurike was seated on a couch, as an opt-out watching his former teammates play on without him, it was noticeable.
Utah and Stanford took advantage of Levi’s absence, and gleefully piled up a lot of yards against some really young guys, players who didn’t have Onwuzurike’s quickness or strength.
The Huskies since have changed defensive line coaches. They’ve added another lineman to make it a front-five. Onwuzurike was the equivalent of two players.
The Lions just need to wind him up and let him go. His quickness, even in the NFL, will surprise people. They should play him right away, build around him.
He’s no Shelton, a one-and-done. He’s a new, revved-up model, coming off the assembly line. Let the EDGE rushers know their numbers are going to go up. Play him. Build around him. Win with him.