Continuing our series on NFL draft prospects for the Green Bay Packers, today we’ll highlight Washington IDL Levi Onwuzurike.
Levi Onwuzurike – IDL, Washington – 6’2″ 290 lbs
When you throw on the tape of Levi Onwuzurike, the first thing you notice is supreme agility for an interior defensive lineman. Several top defensive line prospects this year are plus athletes, but Onwuzurike’s size affords him even more mobility in space than his counterparts in this class.
And speaking of size, while he may be lighter than some other IDL prospects, such as Christian Barmore or Alim McNeill, Onwuzurike still shows a propensity for beating single blockers regularly and making plays in the run game.
His tape isn’t especially fresh because he opted out of the 2020 season. However, he has the traits and the profile to be a major contributor on the defensive line at the next level.
Onwuzurike is as good in space as any interior defensive lineman in this class. His quick-twitch instincts and burst off the snap pair with quality play speed to make him a capable defender across the field. Take a look at how
He starts on the the left guard before taking off into the flat after the pass-catching running back (highlighted here by Neighborhood Husky on YouTube), catching him and making the tackle. Even as a lighter defensive lineman for the top of this year’s class, it’s impressive to see 290 pounds accelerate in space like this to make a stop. This isn’t just a skill play, either, it’s an effort play. He gets high marks in that category.
The now-former Washington Husky does a great job of winning one-on-one matchups on the interior, even as a relatively undersized IDL. It’s attributable to good technique and his initial explosion on the snap. This rep from Washington’s 2019 game versus Cal is a prime example of this attribute.
Onwuzurike is lined up over the center and is the reason why this play is blown up. The center is one his heels immediately as Onwuzurike generates power with his initial push, overpowering him and forcing the quarterback to go into evasion mode. He’s able to harass quarterbacks thanks to his combination of technique, leverage and athleticism.
Finally, his play against the run is another plus for his game. It’s a culmination of his most obviously positive traits, factoring in his ability to get superior leverage with his good instincts and reliable motor. Watch in this next play, from 2019 against Utah, in which he blows up a run and forces a loss of yardage.
This time, Onwuzurike is lined up with his outside shoulder over the left tackle. He explodes off the ball with a perfectly timed jump, shooting the gap and eliminating any lane for the running back to either power through or cut back in. He steers the ball carrier right into the cavalry, who clean up for the tackle for loss. His first-move quickness is of his most enticing traits and one that gives him a chance to factor into any play.
Like with any Covid-19 opt-out, there are concerns about not playing a competitive game in a year for Onwuzurike. He quelled those concerns at least somewhat with a strong practice performance at the Senior Bowl, however it didn’t help that he had to sit out the game itself due to an injury.
An NFL-caliber strength program will also be an important developmental tool at the next level for Onwuzurike, who doesn’t necessarily lack strength in general but will need to develop more so he doesn’t need to rely on a perfect initial push to generate power. With his level of strength relative to his frame, interior offensive linemen will not buckle like the Cal center seen earlier in this report.
Building on that point, general refinement is the last major area of concern for Onwuzurike, and that’s not to say it’s a fatal flaw. There isn’t anything noticeable to the naked eye in his game that is unfixable, uncoachable or unusable in a game situation. His potential is as high as any IDL in this class, but it will take more consistency to reach that lofty peak. That most notably includes continuing to develop his pass-rush repertoire, of which he’s shown plenty of flashes but not enough consistent dominance.
Even with a year off since his last meaningful competition, Levi Onwuzurike is as intriguing as any other interior defensive lineman in this draft class. He won’t play the 1-technique like he did some of in college, but he projects as a viable producer at the 3-technique thanks to both his dynamic burst off the ball and great instincts and awareness.
Where he thrives the most in relation to the other top IDLs this year is his agility and athleticism in space. That’s how he most successfully gains advantages on blockers and how he makes plays in the open field against smaller ball carriers. Any team looking to add athleticism on the defensive line would benefit from adding Onwuzurike.
His fit with the Green Bay Packers isn’t perfectly cut and dry, however. He’s a questionable fit as a 3-4 defensive end in base defense for now, and he doesn’t have the right profile to either play off the edge or line up at the nose. However, any sort of sub package, which are essentially modern base defenses anyway, open up far more opportunities for Onwuzurike to make an impact. And, in fairness, building more strength and size could make the 3-4 end fit more suitable with time.
Green Bay will only improve by adding better athleticism on the defensive line. Depending on how Brian Gutekunst and the front office feel about his measurable and athletic test scores, Onwuzurike is a justifiable first-round option for the Packers. Taking him anywhere after pick 29 would be a positive value pick.