Defensive line depth, and a future starter, from the Pacific Northwest
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive line is far from being a weakness, but there are concerns about depth and the future status of Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston who both enter 2021 with no contract beyond the season.
We already looked at Tulane defensive lineman Cam Sample earlier, as well as another defensive player in Minnesota defensive back, Benjamin St-Juste. Last week I got a crack at the offense with Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith, but it’s time for me to go back to defense, with Washington Huskies defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike.
LEVI ONWUZURIKE COLLEGIATE CAREER
Like many other players, Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 college football season, so he finishes with three years of production.
In those three years, he tallied 95 career tackles (16 for loss) and 7 sacks.
Missing his final season at Washington, Onwuzurike accepted an invitation to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl so he could show NFL teams he still had early round talent.
In the beginning of practices Onwuzurike stood out on a field full of NFL prospects. Ultimately however, at least one draft expert came away disappointed in the Huskies defensive lineman’s performance.
“On tape in 2019, this guy is one of the most dominant defensive tackles, three-techniques up the field in penetrating and disrupting,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said. “You saw him in practice this week and he had some flash plays, but I thought he was going to come in and dominate this week. I think one of the trends we saw with a lot of these opt-out guys that didn’t play and haven’t had the training and haven’t been in football shape, playing games, and gaining more experience, a large portion of them weren’t kind of ready and instinctive and didn’t seem to have the bounce of some guys who were coming off of a season and are still in football, game mode.”
Still, others came away happy with what they saw from him at the Senior Bowl, including me.
PRO DAY DATA AND ANALYSIS
Onwuzurike didn’t make any huge leaps at Washington’s Pro Day, but he didn’t lose ground either.
His 4.85 40-yard dash would have been Top-5 in last year’s NFL Scouting Combine, and shows some of the speed Onwuzurike brings to the field.
The real buzz came from the player’s words though, as he pulled no punches when asked about who the best defensive lineman is, in this year’s class.
But he didn’t just say he was the best in the class. He added context emphasizing some of his physical traits.
“For me, my get off, my strong hands and my pass rush,” Onwuzurike said. “Those three alone easily separate me from all the others. A lot of those guys can’t do what I do and I can do what they do. One hundred percent, there’s a big gap between us.”
WHAT HE BRINGS IN 2021
As a rookie Onwuzurike brings scheme versatility with talents that translate to his potential success inside and on the end in Tampa’s base defense.
Of course, doing so as a back-up across the line helps Todd Bowles craft various formations getting the best three down lineman on the field for any given situation.
The big question is going to be whether or not Onwuzurike can kick out and become the heir to Ndamukong Suh’s starting spot in 2022 if the veteran retires.
Getting a full season to be the understudy not only gives the Buccaneers time to figure this out, but also prevents the team from putting too much on the shoulders of a rookie who hasn’t played meaningful football since the 2019 college football season.
If the Buccaneers draft Onwuzurike, then the plan is going to be for him to become a starter beside fellow Washington product, Vita Vea.
In fact, Vea himself is already helping to get the younger lineman’s career going right. Onwuzurike mentioned Vea and Benning Potoa’e as contributors to his approach preparing for the NFL.
Onwuzurike is a late day one, early day two prospect. Somewhere between pick 25-45 is where I’d expect him to get taken off the board.
Of course, this means Jason Licht and the Bucs would be taking him at pick 32, or trading up in the second round. Which will make our poll options a bit interesting, so take a close look when selecting hour choice.
ON THE CLOCK…
Speaking of, this is where Bucs Nation comes in. Taking a look at the roster, the fit, and the projections.