The Green Bay Packers’ defensive line simply was not good enough in 2020. Not even close. In 2019, Kenny Clark made the Pro Bowl following a season highlighted by six sacks, nine tackles for losses and seven quarterback hits. In 2020, Clark, Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster combined for five sacks, five tackles for losses and 10 quarterback hits.
According to Pro Football Focus, Clark had 62 quarterback pressures in 2019. All nine defensive linemen to get playing time in 2020 recorded 77 pressures, led by Clark plunging to 28. Kingsley Keke showed some promise but all four sacks, all three tackles for losses and half of his eight quarterback hits came in two games. Montravius Adams, a third-round flop, signed with New England in free agency. With that, the Packers could use another impact defensive lineman. Unfortunately, it is a paper-thin draft class.
Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike is our No. 2-ranked defensive lineman.
Levi Onwuzurike was a top recruit that Washington pulled out of football-mad Allen, Texas. How badly did the Huskies want him? Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski flew to Texas on six consecutive recruiting weeks.
Onwuzurike wasn’t an instant star, though, and he might not be an instant star in the NFL, either. For defensive linemen, patience is a virtue that requires experience. A one-year starter who opted out of last season, Onwuzurike will need some seasoning.
“For him, the standard has been elevated,” defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe told the Seattle Times in 2019. “He’s really, really strong. But then being strong and knowing when to use that strength, that’s what he’s trying to figure out right now.
“At times he flashes and it looks really, really good; and other times it looks like he’s learning football. So, he’s slowly putting it together and I do believe he’s getting better every week.”
Onwuzurike redshirted in 2016 and had five sacks and 10 tackles for losses as a reserve in 2017 and 2018 before breaking into the starting lineup in 2019. He was named first-team all-Pac-12 with two sacks and six tackles for losses. More was expected of him in 2020.
“He knows there’s so much meat left on the bone, so to speak,” Malloe said. “If he gets what he needs to get done — the improvements he needs to make — you will see him make a lot more plays than what he already has done.”
Instead, having earned his degree, he opted out of the season, watched games as a fan and set his sights on the NFL. He shook off some of the rust at the Senior Bowl, then had a strong pro day, highlighted by a cat-quick 4.86 in the 40. That athleticism was evident with a pair of blocked kicks.
“I’m the best D-tackle in the draft,” he said at his pro day. “So, the best D-tackle in the draft should go in the first round.”
And why is he the best?
“For me, my get off, my strong hands and my pass rush. Those three alone easily separate me from all the others. A lot of those guys can't do what I do and I can do what they do. One hundred percent, there's a big gap between us.”
Onwuzurike was all-conference academically in 2017 and 2018 and on the field in 2019.
“Sometimes I do,” he told The Tacoma News Tribune when asked if the sociology major liked the academic part of college.
He liked the football part better.
“I really like just exploding out of my stance and f***ing somebody up,” he told The Draft Network.
Measureables: 6-foot-2 7/8, 290 pounds, 33-inch arms, 4.86 40, DNP shuttle (hamstring), 29 bench-press reps.
Stats and accolades: A 2020 opt-out, Onwuzurike had two sacks and six tackles for losses in 2019, his first season as a full-time starter, to earn first-team all-Pac-12. His three-year totals were seven sacks, 16 TFLs and one pass deflection. He missed three tackles, had a pressure rate of 9 percent and forced three holding penalties in his final season, according to Sports Info Solutions. Pro Football Focus credited him with 31 pressures in 2019.
NFL Draft Bible says: Onwuzurike could be one of the best-kept secrets in the cycle. In a class desperately trying to find interior pass rushers, Onwuzurike has flashed some of the highest potential of the bunch. He is cat quick with impressive flexibility inside, showing the talent to “get skinny” and shoot gaps at a high level. In the run game, he shows enough anchor to occupy multiple blockers while still working laterally at proper depth. The next step is for Onwuzurike to put it all together. For as talented as he is, the production does not yet match the overall skill set.
About This Series
Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft. The series is starting with the top five at each position.