Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara will begin his NFL career on the same team as his older brother Romeo Okwara after being selected 67th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft Friday night by the Detroit Lions. Okwara is the third Notre Dame player to be drafted on Friday night and the first on the defensive side of the ball.
Notre Dame entered the night with zero players drafted, but Okwara became the third of night following Cole Kmet (43rd overall to Chicago) and Chase Claypool (49th overall to Pittsburgh) when the Lions selected him and reunited him with his older brother Romeo who also played for Notre Dame.
Before the draft, I speculated that Okwara might be a better outside linebacker on the NFL level in the right scheme, and sure enough, when Roger Goodell announced the Okwara pick, he referred to Okwara as an outside linebacker, not a defensive end like Okwara played at Notre Dame.
Okwara joins a Detroit Lions defense the has more of a hybrid defense under head coach Matt Patricia – a Bill Belichick disciple. Their official website lists their defense as a 4-3, but they played their nickel package “70% of the time,” according to Patricia. Because of that, an EDGE rusher like Okwara was likely very attractive to them.
Originally I pegged Okwara as a second-round pick and thought the Atlanta Falcons might take a chance on him at 47 overall, but he ended up lasting until the early third round. Still, that is probably in the right range for a prospect like Julian Okwara.
Okwara did not have the senior season that most Notre Dame fans expected in 2019. He started on a high note by being named a captain for the season, but other than an outburst against Virginia, he was not the disruptive force he was supposed to be before he broke his leg against Duke in November.
Okwara finished his Notre Dame career with 77 career tackles with 23 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He set a career-high for sacks as a junior in 2018 with 8.0 before dropping down to just 4.0 in his injury-shortened senior year.
The younger Okwara brother joins his brother Romeo in Detroit. After Romeo Okwara went undrafted, he was signed by the New York Giants out of Notre Dame before signing a sizable free-agent contract before the 2018 season. Two years ago, Romeo Okwara collected 7.5 sacks before having a down year in 2019 with just 1.5.
Julian Okwara is the first defensive Notre Dame player drafted this year but should be the first of at least four. Khalid Kareem, Alohi Gilman, and Troy Pride should all be drafted before the end of the draft with a possibility of Jalen Elliott hearing his name called as well.
It is not a surprise that Okwara was drafted before his linemate, Kareem because Okwara offers a higher ceiling even if he also has a lower floor. Okwara is the kind of pick who could turn into a double-digit sack pass rusher if used effectively. A defensive mind like Matt Patricia is a good coach for Okwara to play under though Patricia is already on the hot seat in Detroit, which is a bit of a long term concern for Okwara.