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New Orleans Saints Sophomore Spotlight: David Onyemata

Is David Onyemata primed to become the next "Nigerian Nightmare"?

Photo by Derick E Hingle USA TODAY

If you listen closely enough, you might still be able to hear the echoes of shrieks and screams from some of the Saints faithful: 'They drafted WHO?!' 'FROM WHERE?!?!' 'And they TRADED to get him?!' Such was the refrain from many New Orleans fans when the team made a trade with the Washington Redskins in the 2016 draft to move back into the 4th Round to select a player that many had not even heard of. His name was David Onyemata, and he played college football at the University of Manitoba near Winnipeg, Canada, not exactly the mecca of college football.

Onyemata grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, a handful of hours away from Enugu, which is best known as the birthplace of Christian Okoye. Okoye was a running back with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987-92, and appropriately nicknamed "The Nigerian Nightmare" for his physical and dominating running style. Onyemata himself had never seen a North American football game until he immigrated to Western Canada in 2011 to attend Manitoba.

Big, aggressive, and athletic, but obviously raw; Onyemata still progressed nicely throughout his collegiate career to the point that he earned an invite to the East-West Shrine game following his senior season. It was there that he caused himself to really get noticed with standout performances against much more touted college players. After a handful of NFL teams saw his athleticism on display again at his pro day, Onyemata had certainly put himself in the discussion to be selected before the end of the 2016 draft. Saints head coach Sean Payton had thought enough of him to trade two mid-round picks to move into position to snag Onyemata as the 120th overall pick last year.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Onyemata immediately made an impact at the beginning of Saints training camp last summer. One-on-one battles with accomplished linemen such as Zach Strief, Jahri Evans, and Max Unger showed off his physical abilities. Onyemata also showed the ability to learn quickly, as it became apparent by the end of preseason that he was working hard on the technical aspect of his game.

Once the 2016 regular season began, Onyemata was a regular part of the Saints defensive line rotation, in no small part due to a broken leg suffered by number one draft pick Sheldon Rankins in preseason. His inexperience often showed over his rookie season. Onyemata sometimes struggled in play recognition, resulting in hesitation on his initial push or in play pursuit. Still raw with his technique, he got by almost solely on his natural strength and athletic ability.

What Onyemata can bring to the Saints defensive line in 2017 should be exciting to even the most casual observer. He uses his good strength to get a tremendous initial punch inside, and his explosive athletic ability allows him to pursue a play well along the backside or potentially become a playmaker in the offensive backfield. Although he has the ability to play defensive end in some situations, he continues to project as a defensive tackle. There he'll team up with Sheldon Rankins, Nick Fairley, and Tyeler Davison to form one of the best defensive tackle units in the NFL. As David Onyemata continues to learn the nuances of the NFL game, and progress his technique to go along with his immense athletic potential the sky could be the limit for this 24-year-old project. Could Saints fans be witnessing the next "Nigerian Nightmare"?