As the days drew nearer to the Detroit Lions’ annual Super Bowl - also known as the NFL draft - most Lions fans seemed in a confident mood. Holding the seventh overall pick, it was almost guaranteed that the Lions would acquire one of the top-tier college prospects available. How could they f*** it up?
Thankfully, the new leadership team at Allen Park, led by incoming GM Brad Holmes, managed not to fall into the trap of overthinking the pick. After the Dolphins took speedster receiver Jayden Waddle at #6, the Lions were able to select the dominating Oregon Ducks offensive tackle, Penei Sewell, with the following pick. Cue high fives and chest bumps all around the Lions’ draft room.
With the first day of the draft in the books and despite having secured Sewell, Holmes and new head coach Dan Campbell would most likely have had a fairly sleepless night, knowing that they still had many holes to fill in a Lions roster ravaged by three seasons of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia’s negligence.
The Lions possessed the ninth pick in the 2nd round (41st overall) which meant there were a whole host of variables that would decide whether their prime day two target was still on the board when the Lions were next on the clock.
The perceived wisdom viewed the most burning needs for the Lions to be in the wide receiver room and in the secondary, so with a whole bunch of talented pass catchers still available plus top-ranked safety Trevor Moehrig of TCU there for the taking, the Lions eventual pick caused some incredulity.
When Roger Goodall announced the Lions second-round pick as Levi Onwuzurike, a 295 lb, 6’3” defensive tackle from Washington, this was not what anyone outside the Lions draft room was expecting. Needless to say, Lions WhatsApp groups and the Twittersphere soon went into meltdown.
Let’s look at why the pick initially provoked such a strong reaction. During free agency, the Lions had picked up DT Michael Brockers in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams, seemingly to lead a new-look defensive line.
Brockers' quality as a DT is undoubted, but he was not one of the Rams’ superstars, often struggling to shed blockers and make the big plays that his fellow linemen Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were capable of.
However, Brockers brings the experience of playing for a perennial playoff contender to the Lions locker room and was expected to be the cornerstone of the D-line, as the Lions concentrated on finding talent in other key positions that were screaming out for attention; further additions to the interior of the D-line were not anticipated until perhaps later in day three with so many positions flashing red on the depth chart.
Onwuzurike is regarded as one of the top defensive tackles in what is widely considered a down year at the position. A high school teammate of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, he started two seasons at Washington before opting out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honours as a junior and finished his college career with seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 39 games.
This lack of production could be one reason that he fell out of the first round. Lining up at nose tackle in the Huskies’ 4-3 defensive scheme certainly did not help these numbers, and the NFL draft analysts certainly had their concerns.
"He’s not a sack guy, but disruptive. He never really posted the sack numbers that you’d prefer to see from someone with his size and overall physicality and overall ability. He showed flashes in that area with the Huskies, and his motor is good. I think if he’s coached up properly, instead of just being disruptive, he could finish and get more sacks alongside the interior.”
Mel Kiper Jnr, ESPN draft analyst
What has become abundantly clear is that the Lions approached the draft with certain player characteristics and qualities in mind, and head coach Dan Campbell has been typically blunt about his own top objectives, which are making his team tougher, bigger and meaner.