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The impact of David Onyemata’s suspension for the New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints will be without their best interior defensive lineman to start 2021

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, news broke that the New Orleans Saints will be without starting defensive tackle David Onyemata for the first six (6) games of 2021 as he serves a suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. The former 4th-round pick out of Manitoba, Canada has been a mainstay on the Saints’ defensive line for the past four seasons and is coming off his far-and-away best season yet in the black and gold in 2020. His hopes for a repeat performance in 2021 have now been dealt a massive blow.

For the past few years, the strength of the Saints’ defensive line has been their depth. With Onyemata leading a loaded defensive interior that included Sheldon Rankins, Malcom Brown, Shy Tuttle, and Malcolm Roach all playing at least 200 snaps in 2020. However, with both Rankins and Brown departing this past offseason, it was expected that Onyemata would continue to shoulder the load of the interior while Tuttle and Roach got expanded roles. With Onyemata now sidelined for the first six games of the season, Tuttle and Roach will have to step up more than expected.

Onyemata’s not one of the bigger-name players in the NFL, however in 2020 he was one of the most efficient. Dennis Allen rotated his defensive line a lot in 2020, with the aforementioned five players getting at least 200 snaps (and all but Roach playing 300). Onyemata played 599 regular season snaps, 33rd among all defensive tackles in the NFL. Despite the limited snaps compared to his peers in the league, Onyemata ranked 13th in pressures, t-15th in quarterback hits, 13th in hurries, and t-9th in sacks. His performance in 2020 even earned him Pro Football Focus’s highest defensive grade among all Saints.

Projected Saints Defensive Line Depth Chart

Position #1 #2 #3 #4
Position #1 #2 #3 #4
LE Cameron Jordan Tanoh Kpassognon
DT Shy Tuttle Malcolm Roach Josiah Bronson Albert Huggins
DT David Onyemata (Suspended)) Ryan Glasgow Christian Ringo Jalen Dalton
RE Marcus Davenport Payton Turner Noah Spence Carl Granderson

Taking a look at the Saints’ DT depth chart after Onyemata is…unfamiliar. Aside from the aforementioned Tuttle and Roach, the only other DT on the Saints roster that has played snaps for them in the past is Ryan Glasgow, who played 34 snaps in 2020 in his first year with the Saints after spending three with the Bengals. There’s not much to report on Glasgow, he totaled zero pressures and two tackles for the Saints in those 34 snaps and has a grand total of zero (0) career sacks in 271 career pass rushing snaps. He will likely be the first man rotating in off the bench in the first six games.

Luckily for the Saints, the suspension is only six games. He’ll only miss one divisional contest against the Panthers and should be back just in time for the Saints’ first meeting with the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Saints will still (likely) have Onyemata for a majority of the season, however the Saints run defense in those first six games will look rough without their big man in the middle.

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