MOBILE – It was like the first day of spring ball all over again for former Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike Tuesday at the Senior Bowl.
Onwuzurike, who is listed as the No. 23 overall prospect and top interior lineman in this year's NFL Draft by NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. So Tuesday was the first time he got to strap it up and compete again for the first time in quite a while.
"Getting back out there on the field feels good," Onwuzurike told detroitlions.com after Tuesday's National Team practice here at the Senior Bowl. "Showing that I can still do what I do, which I think I showed."
Onwuzurike certainly did that. He showed off a unique blend of power and speed in the one-on-one pass-rush drills with the offensive linemen. Onwuzurike (6-2, 290) is an explosive athlete, and said he wanted to really show off his speed and ability to get off the ball this week in Mobile.
It didn't take long for him to show talent evaluators he's really been working on that aspect of his game over the last few months. Early in one-on-one reps, he shot off the ball so fast in one rep and got by Notre Dame offensive lineman Robert Hainsey before Hainsey could even get out of his stance. It drew some excitement from his defensive line teammates, as well as the Miami Dolphins coaching staff, who is coaching the National Team.
"It's huge," Onwuzurike said of being able to show NFL talent evaluators he stayed in shape and stayed working to prepare himself for the NFL through the opt out. "It's big for me."
Most draft analysts think Onwuzurike is a mid-to-late first-round draft pick. If the Lions do pick up extra draft capital in a potential Matthew Stafford trade, boosting the talent and depth along their defensive line could be an attractive option.
Detroit's 24 sacks last year ranked tied for 26th, and only 4.0 of those sacks came from the interior. Ask any quarterback where they hate to see pressure coming from, and almost every one of them will say directly up the middle in their face.
The Lions signed veteran Nick Williams to give them some pass-rushing prowess from the interior last offseason, but in 14 games, he had just one sack. Danny Shelton and John Penisini are more run stuffers, and Da’Shawn Hand battled injuries again in 2020 and didn't record a sack in 10 games.
Onwuzurike is an interesting prospect with a lot of physical traits and huge upside NFL teams will certainly dig into over the next few months. It was a great start to his Senior Bowl week Tuesday.
"I think for me, it's the speed and getting off the line of scrimmage," Onwuzurike said of what he wants to show this week. "Pushing that O-lineman five yards off the ball and being a disruption, but at the same time, taking in what the coaches teach us and try to learn the techniques of the NFL."