Quite simply, if Levi Onwuzurike does not see the field in 2023, he may never play football again. With a lingering back injury from his college days at Washington, Onwuzurike had a long road ahead as a rookie. Brad Holmes and the Detroit Lions were well aware of this when they drafted him, but perhaps they did not know it would be this bad.
To be fair to him, he suited up and played for 16 of 17 games during his rookie season in 2021. The only game he missed was Week 1 against the 49ers with a hip injury. He still did not make much of an impact on the field when he was playing. He never started a game, and totaled just 35 tackles and one sack.
We gave Onwuzurike the benefit of the doubt, and we expected him to contribute in 2022. He was then placed on Injured Reserve in September with a back injury, to then later undergo season-ending surgery not long after.
During his absence, other players stepped up. Isaiah Buggs and Benito Jones made names for themselves in key spots for the Lions. Buggs came up with 13 starts along with 46 tackles, two pass deflections, and a forced fumble. The Lions just gave Buggs two-year extension, as he could continue to step up if Onwuzurike cannot.
Onwuzurike’s draftmate, Alim McNeill, is also continuing to develop. McNeill played and started in all 17 games, totaling 41 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, and seven QB hits. The Lions drafted McNeill 31 picks later than Onwuzurike and looks to be a much more promising asset for Detroit.
Not to mention the Lions are still in the DT market. Jalen Carter and Calijah Kancey are guys continually mocked to the Lions. Both would step in right away and make an impact.
So where does that leave Levi Onwuzurike?
Nothing is guaranteed for him. Getting on the field is a big enough accomplishment. If he does play, it will most likely be in a depth role. His health status will be more clear as the summer progresses.
It is unfortunate to see a guy’s career derailed before it even started. Especially due to something out of his control. The Lions have seen it all too often with guys like Kerryon Johnson, Da’Shawn Hand, Ryan Broyles, and more. Dan Campbell and Holmes have a decision ahead of them, and they have shown they are not afraid of making unemotional decisions.
Holmes has had an impeccable record as GM of the Lions. However, Onwuzurike will go down as one of his biggest blemishes if 2023 does not provide any sign of progress.
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