Today, we continue our series on Draft-eligible Washington Huskies with a profile of a good bet to be the first Dawg off the board, defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike. For more UW draft profiles, check out the pervious entries in this series:
Career So Far
Onwuzurike was one of the early returns in UW’s push to recruit in Texas and he proved a solid return on investment. Onwuzurike played at powerhouse Allen HS in suburban Dallas. He was a solid prospect, but not spectacular with a 3* rating and a national ranking in the low-200s. A large part of the reason Onwuzurike was not rated higher was his size- at 260 pounds as a senior, he profiled more as a defensive end at the next level than an interior lineman. Nonetheless, Onwuzurike had multiple scholarship offers from every Power-5 conference and received enough attention to take official visits to Georgia and Michigan before committing to UW.
Onwuzurike followed the ideal career trajectory for a stand-out defensive lineman about as closely as one could. He took a redshirt year to work on his body and got his weight up to about 290 pounds. He worked his way into the defensive-line rotation as a redshirt-freshman and showed potential. As a redshirt-sophomore, he became a regular contributor, started a handful of games, and tallied a solid 6.5 TFL (3 sacks). Finally, he firmly seized a starting position as a redshirt-junior and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors.
What goes through Levi Onwuzurike's mind when he's setting up a pass-rush? pic.twitter.com/aMluez7MXH— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 21, 2021
Onwuzurike’s return for his 2020 senior season looked probable until the pandemic hit and he opted out of the abbreviated Pac-12 season. The defense felt his absence with an interior line full of talented-yet-inexperienced prospects who needed a bit more seasoning. Without Onwuzurike, the Dawgs struggled against physical running teams. Most fans automatically wondered how different the team would look with Onwuzurike as a more dominant anchor next to a rotating cast of more developmental options.
Onwuzurike finds himself answering some of the same questions in the draft process that he did coming out of high school. Does he have the size to hold up in the middle of a defensive line? Can he take on multiple blockers? Is he a better fit as a 5-tech in a 3-4 defense?
Most of Onwuzurike’s measurable are quite good. His 6’3” height and 33” arm length give him plenty of length up front. He ran a 40-yard dash in under 4.9 seconds, posted a 30” vertical, and repped 225 pounds on the bench 29 times, so athleticism is a plus. As always, the question is his weight; at 290 pounds, he will be one of the lighter interior defensive linemen in the draft, which will inherently raise questions.
Washington fans have been privileged to watch a procession of NFL-ready defensive tackles for the better part of the last decade. From Danny Shelton to Elijah Qualls to Vita Vea to Greg Gaines, UW has always had 1-2 standout interior defensive linemen on the team at a time. Onwuzurike firmly belongs in this group, though he is a slightly different sort of player.
Each of the previous star DTs in the Husky lineage had a standout trait or skill that instantly comes to mind if you engage in a sort of on-field free association. Shelton was a gravitational force who could anchor any sort of defense. Qualls was an agile, dynamic athlete who sometimes looked more like a DE or OLB than a 300+ pound defensive tackle. Vea had the once-in-a-generation explosion that 350-pound humans should never possess. Gaines packed an obscene level of effort in a fire-hydrant body.
Onwuzurike does a little of everything. He has great strength for his size, but does not compare to Shelton’s ability to fill space. His agility and athleticism, while a strength, do not compare to what Qualls brought to the table. Although he was one of the most explosive defensive linemen on the West Coast in 2019, he does not compare to Vea in that category. And despite a strong motor, few can compare to Gaines in that area.
UW DT Levi Onwuzurike is fun to watch.— WestCoastCFB (@WestCoastCFB) April 20, 2021
He makes this play while running stride for stride with Utah’s Tyler Huntley who ran a 4.56 40
But perhaps the combination of all of the above are preferable to a single, defining skill. If Onwuzurike has one stand-out skill, it’s his ability to get off the ball and disrupt plays quickly. No, he’s not Vita Vea in that category, but literally nobody in the world is. Onwuzurike was part of very solid defenses throughout his career and the work he did in the trenches allowed the play-making secondary behind him to do their thing.
Onwuzurike should be a capable NFL starter as a three-technique in a 4-3 front. He is not elite at eating up double teams against the run or pinning his ears back on an all-out rush. That is to say, he is solid-but-unspectacular in the most extreme situations. On most plays, when he works one-on-one with an opposing guard, he will make things difficult for the offense. He gets penetration and forcers QBs and runners to improvise. He rarely makes mental mistakes that take him out of plays. He is both strong and quick enough that he will never be at a disadvantage in those areas. He runs down opponents better than one would expect from a DT. Altogether, Onwuzurike does everything you would want from a solid, consistent DT, even if he might not do the things that would make him an All-Pro.