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Bleacher Report: David Onyemata is Saints’ best-kept secret

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The New Orleans Saints have a stronger defensive line than might meet the eye.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - Quarterback Bryce Petty #9 of the New  York Jets is pressured by defensive tackle David Onyemata #93 of the New  Orleans Saints during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz  Superdome.
NEW ORLEANS, LA - Quarterback Bryce Petty #9 of the New York Jets is pressured by defensive tackle David Onyemata #93 of the New Orleans Saints during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Bleacher Report’s Justis Mosqueda picked out a sleeper from all 32 rosters, including the New Orleans Saints. Characterized as a list of guys you don’t think about who maybe you should think about, Mosqueda went with Saints defensive lineman David Onyemata:

After the trade up for UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport in 2018 draft, the New Orleans Saints will start three first-rounders on their defensive line this year. The open slot on their depth chart, nose tackle, includes a high-end sleeper: David Onyemata.

Onyemata was drafted in the fourth round in 2016 out of Canada’s University of Manitoba. Despite playing just 57 percent of New Orleans’ defensive snaps last year, virtually equal to Tyeler Davison (56 percent) and well behind Sheldon Rankins (77 percent), Onyemata led the Saints’ defensive interior with 12 tackles at or behind the line in 2017.

If Onyemata can earn a full-time starting role on New Orleans’ new and improved line, with players like Davison and Alex Okafor coming off the bench, the unit could be one of the best in the league. Currently, he’s a low-rep, high-efficiency player. If he can prove to replicate the same production as a high-rep player, he won’t be an unknown going into 2019.

The Saints liked what they saw out of Onyemata at 2016 East-West Shrine Game practices and were one of a few teams able to get a scout onto a red-eye flight for his last-minute Manitoba pro day. Onyemata established himself as a 96.3-percentile SPARQ-scored athlete, and the Saints ended up trading into the fourth round to get him - leapfrogging the Green Bay Packers, who called Onyemata’s agent to say they were drafting him. Ironically, his agent worked with Sean Payton’s representatives, giving the Saints an inside scoop to go get their guy. As fate would have it, the Saints did business with Green Bay years later to get Davenport.

An underrated aspect of Onyemata making this list is how his quick growth could have affected the Saints’ 2018 draft strategy. Onyemata was a very similar prospect to Marcus Davenport when he entered the draft, possessing prodigious athletic ability and an aggressive on-field mindset but lacking in experience. Since entering former NC State defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen’s tutelage, Onyemata has visibly progressed to earn more playing time and become a problem for opposing offenses. Think of his career so far as a proof-of-concept for New Orleans’ bold move to go get Davenport. If Davenport can progress in the ways Onyemata has, this could end up being a terrific move.