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David Onyemata now is a leader for the New Orleans Saints, far and away the most productive and fearsome defensive tackle on the roster, a play-wrecker on the interior whose presence is key for the Saints.
Think about that for a minute, and honestly assess if it could have been forecast in 2016, when Onyemata was the second defensive tackle taken by New Orleans in that NFL Draft.
He played at the University of Manitoba, in Canada, and joined the Saints as a piece of clay – a really, really, REALLY strong piece of clay, but a piece nonetheless – to be molded into an NFL player.
Five seasons later, Onyemata may not have the kind of numbers (6.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss and an interception last year, and 16 career sacks and 42 career quarterback hits) that light up. But he stands out on film, and now he gets the chance to stand out as a leader.
"It's something that has become more comfortable over the years," he said. "Me coming here, my third year I was kind of like the second oldest in the room at that point. So, I take that up."
Onyemata was a fourth-round pick in '16. New Orleans traded up to get him (he was taken at No. 120 overall, in exchange for the No. 152 pick and a fifth-round pick to Washington in '17), even though it had selected Sheldon Rankins in the first round, No. 12 overall.
But while Rankins' Saints career was riddled with injury – he played 63 of 80 possible regular-season games, Onyemata was available for 78 of 80 – Onyemata continued to ascend and each season, he adds a little more to the arsenal.
"When I go into a season, I go in to be a sponge and to be able to take coaching," he said. "Because the moment you think you're better than you actually are, you're going to get surprised by the football gods."
By that metric, they should like what they've seen from Onyemata. Last season was the best of his career, and now he has a cluster of younger players possibly to help develop along the lines of his own.
"We've got a group of younger guys in here, (but) we've got a pretty good group right now," he said. "Right now, I'd say I'm the second oldest guy in the D-line room, so I've got to take that role as a leader in that room."