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NFL breakout players 2018: David Onyemata goes harder than anyone on the Saints defense

Onyemata had a lot of room to grow after picking up football later than most players, but his effort has always been there.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I thought going into this that Sheldon Rankins was going to be my pick as the Saints’ breakout player this season. After all, he’s headed into his third season, and while he’s played well, Rankins still has a lot of room to grow. In the course of watching his film, however, this guy David Onyemata kept showing up and distracting me. I kept seeing this guy going hard AF, playing with an edge and really knocking people around, and it’s the same guy every time.

Finally, I decided to quit playing and focus on Onyemata to see if he might be a better fit for breakout player, and man, am I glad I did.

First of all, it’s important to note Onyemata came to football later on in life than most NFL players.

He emigrated from Nigeria to Winnipeg in 2011 to go to college and he reportedly hadn’t even seen an American football game before then. Somehow, some way, he turned himself into one of the top defensive tackle prospects coming out in 2016 and ended up being drafted by the Saints in the fourth round. That is one hell of a learning curve!

At the same time, because he had only been exposed to the game for a few years, Onyemata came into the league with a lot of room to learn and grow as a player. There is only so far that raw athletic ability will take you as a defensive lineman. To be able to compete in the NFL, he had to improve his technique and learn how to recognize what other teams were trying to do to him scheme-wise. Of course for someone like Onyemata who already had a lot of physical tools, once he got the technique stuff down he was bound to start making plays.

The way Onyemata plays reminds me of the Tasmanian Devil from the cartoons of my youth.

That dude goes so hard and he plays so physically that a lot of the time he just makes plays off effort. He beats up blockers and chucks them out of the way. He looks like a big wrecking ball out there right now, just mauling fools.

But then I also saw some nice moves sprinkled in on film. When Onyemata uses good technique, that makes his power and effort even more dangerous for opposing offensive linemen. If he continues to improve his hands and footwork, especially when he’s working pass rush moves, he is going to give offensive linemen fits play in and play out. And when he gets to the point when he really knows what he’s doing, somebody’s gonna be in trouble, trouble *Bernie Mac voice*.

Last season, Onyemata had 38 combined tackles, two sacks, and one pass defense in 16 games with six starts, but again ,a lot of that was Onyemata just making effort plays as a backup. Heading into this season, Onyemata should have a great opportunity to earn a starting job in Week 1.

If Onyemata can stay healthy for the whole year, I believe his sack numbers in particular will shoot way up.

Anything above five sacks and you start to get into potential Pro Bowler territory, and I definitely see the potential for well over five sacks when I watch Onyemata’s film. It may not be crazy to think he can get close to double-digit sacks this year. That’s just how much talent I believe he has.

I will tell you another thing, too. With Onyemata, Rankins, Cameron Jordan, Alex Okafor all starting and rookie Marcus Davenport mixed in there, New Orleans high-key has a chance to have one of the most dominant defensive fronts in the league this year.

Don’t be surprised when that happens.

And if it does happen, you can bet your ass that Onyemata had a big hand in it.

Confidence Level: Moderate