The defensive tackle was already in dire straits for the New Orleans Saints heading into the 2021 season, and last week it got even worse. DT star David Onyemata was suspended for six games on Friday, making an already slim position even thinner.
New Orleans was already going to have to get creative to make the defensive line rotation work, so that only adds some urgency to the situation. There are talent on the roster that will need to step up if the Saints are to have any anti-run answers this year, especially with Sheldon Rankins leaving for the Jets in the offseason.
As with any training camp hype, take it with a grain of salt, but the Saints coaching staff want you to believe Dalton is the best inside lineman you’ve never heard of. Originally drafted by the Bears without being drafted, Dalton missed all of last season with a triceps injury he sustained in August.
Dalton could be the latest in a long line of outperforming defensive linemen for the Saints, with Malcolm Roach and Shy Tuttle just ahead of him on the depth board. Expect to see the Saints try to make it work for them early in the rotation.
Bronson deserves a special mention here because he has spent his entire career outperforming. A Washington rookie, Bronson was initially a 2-star rookie who walked to the University of Washington after an injury sidelined him at Temple. UW Dawg Pound’s Max Vrooman said Bronson struggled when not paired with elite talent, which could hurt him in the long run.
Bronson may see himself grabbing opportunities early in the year, but he could retire from the rotation just as quickly. The saints can try to see what they have with him. Now is the time for experimentation after all. But if he struggles early on, don’t expect him to see the terrain much.
Tuttle was already likely to start for the Saints, but he was a complementary tackle to Onyemata. Now, Tuttle may have to be the main man inside for the Saints. We can see him lined up above center or in A-gaps more with the position that looks like he is, so he’ll have to leap forward at the start of the year to make up for the loss of Onyemata.
Tuttle has the size and agility to be a nuisance up front, but in part because he wasn’t thin. That won’t be the case anymore, so look for the X factors in its gameplay, such as the attention commanded up front.
Another player who was going to ask for more after the Malcom Brown trade, Malcolm Roach may now have to take a starting position. Roach has a lot of potential for the Saints, but it’s hard to expect too much from him. He is still learning the ropes to a point.
Other players on the list, like Ryan Glasgow, will also be looking for the Saints. However, the Saints like to focus on the players they’ve developed internally. There’s no denying that Ryan Nielsen loves his guys, and for good reason. He’s had several players – including Onyemata himself – far surpassing their draft stock.
After the six games, Onyemata will be eligible to once again become a mainstay on the Saints’ defensive front. The absolute best case scenario is that this leads the Saints to uncover previously unknown talents on the roster.
The silver lining is that the Saints will face the Packers, Panthers, Patriots, Giants, Washington football team and Seahawks without Onyemata. Outside of Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey, it’s not exactly a row of backs for murderers. Although Aaron Rodgers in week 1 might like this pocket a little too much.
If you’re looking for the bright spot, imagine Derrick Henry against a defensive front without Onyemata. At least he’ll be back for this game. In the meantime, these players will have to step up. With Nielsen’s help, they definitely have the potential to do just that.
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