David Onyemata, we hardly knew ye

Much has been written about University of Manitoba phenom David Onyemata.

From his unlikely path to becoming a legitimate professional football prospect to the way in which his progression has mirrored that of fellow Bison alumnus and retired NFLer Israel Idonije, Onyemata has been a staple of the Canadian sports newsreels in recent months. It’s hard to imagine Onyemata still making fresh news, but, after his pro day at the U of M campus on Monday morning, he did just that.

David Onyemata, the second-ranked player on the central scouting bureau’s draft board, will likely never play a down in the CFL. Period.

Onyemata wowed NFL scouts from half the league’s teams with a pro day performance that would have had him atop a number of measurable categories should he have participated in the NFL combine back in February. And while measurables alone cannot make a prospect, they can certainly go a long way to boosting the stock of a project player like Onyemata.

Measurable Result Rank among 30 defensive tackles at NFL combine
40-Yard Dash 5.06 seconds t-14th
Vertical Jump 33″ t-5th
Broad Jump 9’11” 1st
Bench Press 33 reps 1st
3 Cone Drill 7.25 seconds 1st
Shuttle 4.65 seconds 14th

The odds of Onyemata signing a CFL contract next season were never high, but an eventual return to Canada was always a possibility. Like many CIS prospects before him — McMaster’s Matt Sewell and Queen’s Matt O’Donnell come to mind — Onyemata could have signed an NFL contract as an undrafted free agent only to be released during his first year down south. After such an outstanding pro day performance, however, Onyemata should not only be selected in April’s NFL draft, but also stick down south for the foreseeable future. His ceiling is simply too high.

There are valid reasons for NFL scouts to shy away from Onyemata. For one, he hasn’t played a lot of American football – an impressive week at the East-West Shrine Game is all the four-down experience he’s had – meaning he’s mostly had to line up a full yard off the ball. Mastering the nuances of the American game while simultaneously facing the stiffest competition he’s ever encountered will be a major challenge — the leap from the CIS to the NFL, after all, is massive. Onyemata’s stock will also be hurt in the eyes of some scouts because he is a product of the CIS, a program that is not always held in high regard south of the border.

There are also plenty of reasons for NFL scouts to be enamored with Onyemata, however. His dominant game film and excellent pro day aside, Onyemata has no history of injury. His relative inexperience will also be seen as an asset by some coaches, as a post-secondary player who hasn’t had the time to learn bad habits will not need to unlearn them in training camp. Most importantly, those who have spent time with Onyemata repeatedly speak highly of his intelligence, humility, work ethic, and coachability. These traits are what make Onyemata such a tantalizing prospect — a project player only has value if he is likely to reach his full potential. In the case of Onyemata, there’s a good chance that he will.

The only questions that remain where Onyemata’s future is concerned is where and by which team he will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. Roughrider receivers coach Markus Howell told TSN1290 in Winnipeg that NFL scouts pegged him as a “third round pick to a late round pick.” In what is considered a deep class of defensive linemen south of the border, the third round is likely too high a spot for the soon-to-be former Bison. But if the last CIS player to be drafted by an NFL team serves as any example — McGill’s Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the 200th selection of the 2014 NFL draft, is now a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs — there’s no shame in being selected as late as the sixth round.

Regardless of when or if he is selected, one thing is certain — barring a stunning turn of events, David Onyemata will not be suiting up for a CFL squad in the foreseeable future.

In fact, it’s likely that he never will.

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