Entering the 2016 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints were desperate to fix one of the NFL's worst defenses. They had already used the 12th overall pick in the 1st round on defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. After drafting WR Michael Thomas with an early 2nd round choice, they went back to the defense and selected S Vonn Bell late in the 2nd round.
New Orleans would stay on the defensive side with their 4th round pick. Despite known prospects like Andrew Billings, Deon Bush, Blake Martinez, and Quinton Jefferson still available, the Saints threw a curveball at experts. With the 120th overall choice, the Saints selected defensive tackle David Onyemata from the University of Manitoba in Canada.
Onyemata grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and had never even seen a football game until he immigrated to Winnipeg in 2011 to attend college. Despite his inexperience, he was an immediate star because of his rare blend of strength and natural athleticism.
Onyemata was invited to the 2015 East-West Shrine Game, where NFL scouts first got a look at his raw talents. He would be the first player from Manitoba to be drafted to the NFL, and just the 12th player ever to be drafted from a Canadian college.
Expectations were low for the unknown prospect, but Onyemata flashed signs of potential despite playing in just 37% of the team’s defensive snaps as a rookie in 2016. He earned even more playing time over the next three seasons, gathering a total of 9.5 sacks, 22 QB hits, and improving all aspects of his game while missing just one contest.
New Orleans awarded Onyemata with a lucrative three-year contract extension prior to the 2020 season. The little-known defensive project had surpassed his more celebrated draft mate Rankins and was a crucial part of a strengthened New Orleans defense. Today we look at how well he performed during the 2020 season.
Onyemata started the year quiet statistically but was part of a defensive effort that held Tampa Bay to 86 yards rushing during an opening day win. He had a big night during a Week 2 loss to the Raiders, recording a sack, five QB pressures, and tackle for loss.
After missing a Week 3 loss to Green Bay, Onyemata recorded a sack and 2 pressures in a victory at Detroit. He maintained a high level of play all year and was one of the Saints most consistent defenders during the 2020 season.
Onyemata had at least one tackle for loss in eight games this season. He finished with a career-high 6.5 sacks, third on the team. Onyemata also finished with career bests in tackles (44), along with his 10 tackles for loss, 16 QB hits, and 26 pressures. He also recorded his first career interception during a Week Nine victory at Tampa Bay.
The free agent loss of Rankins and trade of DT Malcom Brown thinned the formidable depth at the Saints defensive tackle spot. However, David Onyemata is blossoming into one of the league's best defensive tackles. No longer an athletic project, Onyemata has improved his run defense with each year and has developed into a consistently disruptive pass rusher.
The once unknown immigrant from Nigeria and looked over prospect from Canada is now one of the best players on one of the NFL's finest defenses.