The 2021 NFL Draft’s interior defensive line class is weak. However, that perceived weakness might allow new players to rise and emerge from obscurity. Washington Huskies defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike could be one of those 2021 NFL Draft prospects. What does Onwuzurike do best, and how does his game translate to the NFL?
Levi Onwuzurike 2021 NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: Washington
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’2 7/8″
- Weight: 290 pounds
- Wingspan: 80 1/8″
- Arm: 32 1/2″
- Hand: 10 1/4″
Senior Bowl Performance
Onwuzurike performed well at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, even if he wasn’t on the field as much as initially planned. He effectively validated his stock after sitting out the 2020 season. Here’s what I wrote about the Washington defensive tackle in my National Team practice report summary, linked above.
“Onwuzurike only played one day at the National Team Senior Bowl practices, but that’s all he needed. The Washington defensive lineman showed off his explosiveness and proportional length on Tuesday. He got beat by Quinn Meinerz on one rep, but aside from that, he was incredibly disruptive and active on the interior. His absence was visibly felt on Wednesday, and that counts for something. Onwuzurike didn’t have as much room to improve his stock as other prospects, but he’s comfortably within Day 2 range now.”
Levi Onwuzurike’s background
Some players already have tangible player types by high school but need further refinement. Such was the case for Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, a long 6-foot-3, 293-pound defensive end prospect in high school. A three-star product of Allen, Texas, Onwuzurike was under-developed and under the radar, but he still generated substantial interest.
By his senior year, Onwuzurike had offers from a few notable Power Five teams and several other high quality Group of Five programs. Some of his most enticing offers came from Georgia, Baylor, Michigan, and TCU. However, Onwuzurike ultimately signed with Washington. It was over two days worth of driving round-trip, but for Onwuzurike to further his development as a student and an athlete, it was worth it.
Levi Onwuzurike’s career as a Washington defensive tackle
Onwuzurike redshirted his first season with the Huskies, but the year of development was needed. When he came back as a redshirt freshman in 2017, Onwuzurike immediately started to produce on the defensive side of the ball. The Washington defensive tackle played in nine games and logged 16 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss.
In 2018, star nose tackle Vita Vea left for the draft, and Onwuzurike was freed up to take on an even greater role. Onwuzurike started four games and played in 13, increasing his production totals once again. This time around, he managed to pick up 3.0 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss while also doubling his tackle total.
Onwuzurike’s rise into the starting lineup
Onwuzurike became a full-time starter and frequently showed off his upside with added exposure as a redshirt junior. Onwuzurike started twelve games and picked up another 2.0 sacks to go along with 6.0 tackles for loss. He also increased his tackle numbers yet again, this time amassing 45 total stops. Onwuzurike’s stellar performance expanded beyond even the stats, and for his efforts, he was recognized as a first-team All-Pac 12 honoree.
Onwuzurike’s standout 2019 season yielded high expectations for 2020. Onwuzurike was viewed as a preseason All-American in certain corners. He also occupied the watch lists for several prestigious trophies. However, before the Pac 12 season, Onwuzurike decided to opt out and declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
The decision to opt out was disappointing for onlookers hoping to see Onwuzurike take another leap. But for Onwuzurike himself, it was a sensible move to preserve his draft stock and shift solely to draft preparation.
Analyzing Levi Onwuzurike’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
Levi Onwuzurike is an exciting talent on the defensive line, but there’s room for polish, nonetheless. Let’s start with the good stuff.
Onwuzurike has an impressive amount of explosion for a defensive lineman, and he’s also long and rangy. His initial burst allows him to get positive positioning against offensive linemen, and his arm length allows him to keep himself clean when he uses it correctly. Onwuzurike also has good leg drive through pass rushing reps, and if his anchor is established, he can drive guys back.
On top of his straight-line explosion, Onwuzurike also possesses solid lateral and recovery athleticism. This is apparent both in pass and run defense. There are some eye-popping reps on tape where Onwuzurike uses his length and leverage to throw aside a lineman, then lurches back to cut off a driving ball carrier. Additionally, he’s relatively nimble when seeking out adjacent rushing angles, which can pose a problem for less mobile blockers.
Onwuzurike’s athleticism and length serve as his defining traits. Although he’s still developing his understanding of efficient use, he does have good natural hand placement, and he shows flashes of excellent speed-to-power reps.
His combination of explosiveness and length can be devastating when he gets the timing right. There are a select few plays where Onwuzurike visibly bulldozes an interior lineman by exploding out of his stance and converting all of that momentum into sheer force by extending his arms. His high motor helps him in this area as well.
Examining potential holes in Levi Onwuzurike’s profile
Levi Onwuzurike flies under the radar in the 2021 NFL Draft’s defensive line class. He’s not perfect, but most of his issues are more about consistency and less about elements lacking from his game. Onwuzurike has a tangible power element, but it seems to derive more from his natural leverage than his physical strength. This means that, at least until Onwuzurike gets a bit stronger at the NFL level, he has to be more consistent using his arms as conduits for his explosiveness.
Additionally, while Onwuzurike is a good run defender, he can be more impactful. He’s good at using his length to establish an anchor and stand his ground. However, Onwuzurike lacks the ability to generate displacement consistently. The Washington defensive tackle maintains his space generally well, but given his explosiveness and length, he has room to be more proactive in stifling runs.
Among other things, Onwuzurike needs to improve his pass rush plan at the NFL level. He has a lot of the tools and moves in his arsenal, which is good, but he can do a better job employing them on a situational basis. Once he attains more consistency and adds more natural power to compliment his burst and length, Onwuzurike can stand out on the interior.
Levi Onwuzurike’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
There’s no definitive top dog in the 2021 defensive tackle class. Before the season, names like Marvin Wilson and Christian Barmore were the most popular. Now, with Wilson plummeting and Barmore lacking separation, it’s anyone’s guess who goes off the board first. Daviyon Nixon has a shot after his breakout season, but he’s not established.
On the flip side, confirmed talents like Onwuzurike and Jay Tufele sat out the 2020 season, depriving scouts of recent tape. Scouts now have the tough task of weighing upside and round value. That process either helps or hurts Onwuzurike, who has the upside to go early and has notable holes that decrease his floor.
Overall, Onwuzurike seems like a solid Day 2 prospect. I don’t think Round 1 is in the equation unless he tests out of this world at his pro day. While I expect him to test well, I don’t think it’ll be enough to boost his stock that far. Onwuzurike still needs to maximize his frame, and until he does, he might be a bit streaky at the NFL level.
Teams that best mesh with Onwuzurike’s versatility
Still, Onwuzurike is an excellent value addition in Round 2 or Round 3. He has the versatility to line up both as a 3-4 end and a 4-3 defensive tackle. With his length and anchor, he can also line up under center on occasion. Teams with a need for a well-rounded, versatile, high-upside interior lineman present potential fits for Onwuzurike. The Cardinals, Dolphins, Cowboys, and Packers stand out as good matches, but there are others as well.
Onwuzurike is in a good spot. He may have missed out on an opportunity to earn Round 1 buzz in 2020, but he’s still an exciting prospect who put enough on his 2019 tape to earn an early selection. Onwuzurike oozes potential, and he should be able to contribute rotationally in year one. And with more physical development, he can be an effective, multifaceted starter by year two.