The New Orleans Saints quietly had a really strong draft in 2016, and with the youth movement on the team in full effect with the exception of a few remaining veterans the Saints are going to need their second year players to step up and become more than just ‘could be’s’, but bonafide contributors. In order to do that each player will need to capitalize on the attributes that can make them special, while also covering for and mitigating their weaknesses. This four-part series will look into each of last year’s rookies who I believe can become a plus player for the Saints in 2017, and how I believe that change can be accomplished.
David Onyemata: DT, 6’4″, 300 lbs
There were a lot of fans whose second thought upon the Saints drafting Onyemata was to think of former Saint Akiem Hicks. The first thought was of course some variation of “they drafted Who?”, but there are a lot of similarities between the two players. Both were incredibly powerful young men who played their college ball in Canada. Both were rather quite, and both showed flashes of incredible physical aptitude for the game as rookies while also showing a clear need for coaching to help them turn talent into production. David Onyemata isn’t the same player as Akiem Hicks, he’s a little quicker, a little less fluid, and possibly even stronger. He’s also a lot less experienced as Onyemata’s 4th year playing football ON ANY LEVEL was his rookie season in the NFL. That is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.
Onyemata is such an incredible athlete he was able to go from bored college kid, to world class professional athlete in a matter of three years, and he was able to make that leap while playing actual NFL snaps coming from a game that is totally different in function and technique in Canada. That tells you that he takes well to coaching (something that was noted as early as last year’s training camp by Nick Underhill), and that he has the necessary power, balance, and tenacity to go head to head with the goliaths that are NFL offensive linemen. Onyemata is way behind his peers as far as experience and development, and the inconsistency with his technique as well as his general lack of a ‘mean streak’ were clear indicators of his inexperience. Onyemata often lacks the mean streak and tendency to go through his competition that you see in most great defensive linemen, but it isn’t necessarily that he doesn’t have it, just that it is inconsistent. It is entirely possible that this is largely due to his inexperience and that his nature as an intelligent, thoughtful, and soft spoken kid makes him less likely to naturally default to the type of alpha mentality his position requires. Don’t for a second think he is soft, Onyemata has shown multiple times he isn’t someone to be pushed around, with teammates and opponents both, but he doesn’t have years of experience tapping into the more feral side of himself he will need to achieve greatness that his more experienced peers have.
This could be bad news as technique can and will be improved, but mindset and approach can’t be. The only thing that holds him back from becoming a tremendously impactful defensive player is the mental side of the game. Onyemata has all the tools you could possibly ask for, and he may very well be an even better athlete than Akiem Hicks (whose now a star defensive tackle for the Bears), the biggest question is will he also take several years and two new teams for the lights to turn on and to reach his potential, or can Onyemata become the player he could be now. I am eagerly anticipating getting to find out, but if he can live up to his potential and make the ‘second year leap’ as a player he could play a big part in making up for at least a portion of Nick Fairley’s loss.