The Lions took a risk when they drafted Levi Onwuzurike in 2021. The back issues the defensive lineman faced in college have remained at the NFL level, and they have put his playing future at risk.
Onwuzurike entered the league with plenty of promise and expectations as a second-round pick. He was able to play 16 games as a rookie, despite missed time in the summer due to chronic back ailments. The Washington product showed potential in a rotational role, totaling 35 tackles while adding one sack and two tackles for loss.
That could have provided a stepping stone to a larger workload in 2022, but Onwuzurike re-aggravated his existing issue during the first practice of the summer, resulting in an IR stint. By October, it had become clear that suiting up this season would not have been possible. As a result, he underwent surgery aimed at giving him the best chance possible of continuing his career in 2023 and beyond. When providing an update on his status, head coach Dan Campbell was unable to definitively point to a return at any time in the future.
“We just need to see how it is,” he said, via Kyle Meinke of mlive.com (subscription required). “We talked to him a couple of weeks ago, he was doing good. The rehab has gone well, but you just don’t know. You don’t know with a back. But I mean certainly, he’s going to get an opportunity if the body will allow it.”
Indeed, a path to significant playing time certainly exists for Onwuzurike. The 25-year-old has little in the way of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, especially since Detroit moved on from Michael Brockers earlier this offseason. The team’s other moves along the defensive interior have included re-signing Isaiah Buggs, Benito Jones and John Cominsky. An outside addition late in free agency and/or a notable investment in the draft would come as little surprise given the Lions’ situation at the position. Particularly if Onwuzurike isn’t able to practice and play on a consistent basis, such action may become necessary.