The New Orleans Saints defense was already set to undergo plenty of turnover before the recent suspension of David Onyemata. Now, a defense that was among the league’s best will scramble to replace one of its best players.
Onyemata took to social media on Friday to announce that he had been suspended for six games after violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
As a result, the Saints lost yet another key piece to their defense at a position where they were already thin, to begin with.
How will the Saints go about replacing Onyemata’s production? Which players will have to step up with the team’s top defensive tackle now sidelined for the first six games of the season?
How will the Saints replace David Onyemata?
Onyemata is one of the best success stories on the Saints roster. An unknown fourth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft with little football experience, Onyemata has developed into one of the better defensive tackles in football and is coming off a career year.
The 28-year-old recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2020 and finished with an elite Pro Football Focus grade of 88.8 that ranked seventh among all interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
His role on the team in 2021 was expected to be even more important following the departure of both Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown in the offseason. Not to mention the loss of Trey Hendrickson as well.
Onyemata was expected to be an important part of a weakened Saints defensive line this season. Unfortunately, he will have to wait a little while before he can make an impact again.
The defensive tackle depth behind Onyemata is troublesome at best.
Former undrafted rookie Shy Tuttle is the strongest candidate to receive an uptick in snaps. Tuttle has played quite well when given the opportunity over the last two years as the former Tennessee star has been ranked in the top-33 of all interior linemen by PFF in each of the last two seasons.
There’s also 2020 undrafted rookie Malcolm Roach who played 22 percent of defensive snaps last year. Roach struggled to make an impact as a rookie, but he’ll likely be thrust into a larger role in 2021, at least early on.
Even someone like Ryan Glasgow, a former sixth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, could receive some more playing time after being picked up by the Saints late last year.
Fortunately, the Saints do have the advantage of having a number of defensive ends who could shift inside if need be.
The likes of Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and first-round pick Payton Turner all have the ability to shift inside on passing downs and play that defensive tackle role.
The Saints could even consider turning to the free-agent market to find a suitable short-term replacement. Veterans like Gerald McCoy, Geno Atkins, Jurell Casey, and Kawann Short may all be past their prime, but they could still contribute while Onyemata is sidelined.
The David Onyemata suspension hurts — there’s no way around it. The Saints have options to replace him, but they’ll be hard-pressed to replicate his production on the field.