The 2021 NFL Draft is not considered to have a strong interior defensive line group. There are few prototypical defensive tackles in this year’s draft class, and the top ones either have issues or took a step back in the 2020 season.
But to say that this defensive line class is weak isn’t quite accurate. This year is actually quite deep when it comes to athletic, one-gap penetrating tackles. The 2021 Draft has uncommon depth in defensive tackles who specialize in firing off the snap and making trouble behind the line of scrimmage. That’s a skill set which has seen increasing acceptance since the emergence of Aaron Donald as the NFL’s best defensive player — largely due to his skill set as the prototype for that kind of player.
Washington defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike might be the best of the bunch when it comes to this year’s crop athletic interior defenders. He is slightly undersized, but his athleticism and ability to disrupt leap off the field, but the question still remains as to high highly that will be valued by the NFL.
Prospect: Levi Onwuzurike
Games Played: 34
Tackles For a loss: 16.0
Games Played: 12
Tackles For a loss: 6.0
Best: Explosiveness, quickness, agility, speed, hand usage, disruption
Worst: Size, defeating cut blocks
Projection: A starting defensive lineman in a one-gap, attacking multiple defense.
Washington defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike combines excellent athleticism with a versatile frame, allowing him to play a variety of roles along the defensive front.
Onwuzurike primarily aligned as an interior defensive lineman for the Washington defense, usually lining up at the 0 or 1-technique nose tackle, though he would also frequently line up as a 3 or 4i technique as well. Onwuzurike is a highly athletic lineman, combining acceleration, speed, and lateral agility, which also allowed him to align as a 7 or 9-technique defensive end on occasion as well.
Onwuzurike fires off the snap with an explosive first step, and is often one of the very first players — apart from the center — moving at the snap of the ball. He shows good lower-body flexibility, settling into a compact stance before the snap, and playing with good hip level and leverage after the snap. He is particularly dangerous when attacking a single gap, and can frequently penetrate into the backfield before the opposing offensive lineman is able to establish any kind of block. Onwuzurike shows good and varied hand usage, generally fitting his hands well and bench pressing linemen to give himself room to work and keep them from locking in blocks.
Onwuzurike’s leverage allows him to unlock his explosiveness and play strength, overpowering larger offensive linemen in one-on-one situations. He also shows evidence of a plan when, using a variety of moves to set blockers up and counter their expectations. Onwuzurike primarily uses a bullrush and club move, but also shows an arm-over, push-pull, swipe, and spin moves to counter with speed or power.
Onwuzurike is a capable run defender as well as pass rusher. In addition to being a disruptive penetrator, he consistently leverages gaps well, placing his hips in the gap before shedding blocks to make plays on the ball.
He plays with great competitive toughness, consistently fighting through blocks and showing great hustle in pursuit.
While Onwuzurike has good play strength and leverage, he is undersized compared to the NFL archetypes, and can be pushed around if he loses leverage. Likewise, he needs to continue to improve his hand usage, particularly when dealing with cut blocks. He tries to use his hands to defeat cut blocks, but still struggles to keep his feet clean and winds up on the ground too often.
Overall Grade: 8.9 - This prospect should be a starter immediately upon entering the NFL and should be consistently productive early in his career.
Levi Onwuzurike projects best as an interior defensive lineman in a multiple one-gap, attacking defense.
His athleticism and versatility allow him to play from a variety of alignments, from a defensive end in a four-man front to an athletic mismatch nose tackle in a nickel or dime set, and just about everything in between.
Onwuzurike won’t be for every defense, and teams that look to use big, powerful defensive linemen to eat blocks will likely look elsewhere. However, his twitchy, explosive athleticism should appeal to any defense which looks to feature an attacking defensive line. Likewise, he has impressive lateral agility, which should appeal to defenses which feature stunts and twists along the defensive front.
Onwuzurike has quick, active, and heavy hands, but he can still stand to improve them, particularly in keeping himself clean as he penetrates through the line of scrimmage. He is vulnerable to cut blocks and his balance can be a bit of an issue when he plays more upright.
All told, there are few flaws in Onwuzurike’s game and he should be a productive, disruptive starter early in his career, as long as he lands in the correct scheme.