Levi Onwuzurike did not want to settle for second.
At his pro day last month, the former UW standout stated a desire to be the first defensive tackle taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft.
“I think that’s how it should be, 100%,” Onwuzurike said, when asked about the possibility of being a first-round pick. “I think I’m the best D-tackle in the draft. The best D-tackle in the draft should go in the first round. It’s something that’s important to me. But at the end of the day, I’m going to just ball wherever I go.”
He’s going to Detroit.
And while he didn’t accomplish his goal, Onwuzurike was selected by the Lions with the 41st pick in the second round on Friday — three picks after New England made Alabama’s Christian Barmore the first defensive tackle off the board. He’s the second Husky to be taken, after outside linebacker Joe Tryon went to the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the final pick of the first round on Thursday.
And he’s ready to show Detroit he was worth the wait.
“I like (expletive) people up,” Onwuzurike told media after the pick, when asked to describe his game. “I like to get off the line and just put my helmet or my hands on an offensive lineman and (expletive) up an offensive scheme, pretty much. I like pushing ’em back two, three yards and just making ’em feel like (expletive).”
Added ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., in slightly more saintly language: “He’s disruptive. Not the sack guy, but a disruptive force. He commands that double team, shows good explosiveness at the snap, strong hands. Immediate leverage advantage for Onwuzurike. He was disruptive, I thought, against the run at the point (of attack) and in lateral pursuit. He never really posted the sack numbers that you’d prefer to see with someone with his size and his overall physicality and ability, but he showed flashes in that area with the Huskies. His motor is good.
“I think if he’s coached up properly, instead of just being disruptive, he can finish and get more sacks along the interior.”
Onwuzurike — a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle — earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2019, then opting out of his fifth season in Seattle last fall. In 39 career games at UW, the Allen, Texas, product and former four-star recruit racked up 95 career tackles with 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
But the Lions are betting Onwuzurike’s future is even brighter than his past.
“I think he’s a guy that automatically you can put him at the one-technique and say, ‘OK, use that athletic ability to get up field,’” said ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive tackle Booger McFarland. “Meanwhile, you give him time to develop as a three-technique who can rush the passer. When you play that three-technique, you’ve got to be Grady Jarrett. You’ve got to be Aaron Donald to get to the quarterback.
“He’s not there yet, but with the explosiveness, the first step, the athletic ability, you can put him anywhere and he can be a playmaker for you.”
For his part, Onwuzurike said following a pro day performance that included a 4.85-second 40-yard dash and 29 bench press reps of 225 pounds that “it’s my get-off, my strong hands and my pass rush (that separate me). I think those three alone easily separate me from all the others.”
Even if he wasn’t technically first off the board, the Detroit Lions obviously agreed. They paired him with former Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell — Onwuzurike’s Pac-12 rival — who went to Detroit with the No. 7 overall pick.
“I think the Lions are trying to build some (expletive) right here, and we’ve got two good-(expletive) parts to build it,” Onwuzurike said, referring to himself and Sewell.
In the end, Onwuzurike settled for second.
Not that he needed any extra motivation anyway.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to have a chip on my shoulder,” Onwuzurike said. “If I went fourth round, I’d have a chip on my shoulder. If I went first round, first pick, I’m going to have a chip on my shoulder. Either way, I’m going to (expletive) some (expletive) up. So I’m not really worried about that.”