Perry: Rookie Onwenu already overpowering opponents


One of the best young players in football resides in New England, though you might not know exactly how to pronounce his name just yet.

It's oh-WAY-new. But if Michael Onwenu continues to play the way he's played through five games this season, you may be able to get away with calling him what they called him at the University of Michigan and everyone will know exactly who you mean: "Big Mike."

Taken in the sixth round of this year's draft, Onwenu has been a revelation for a Patriots offensive line in flux. When they needed a jumbo tight end in Week 1, he was the guy. When they wanted to work a platoon at right tackle with Jermaine Eluemunor in Week 2, Onwenu was the No. 2. When Joe Thuney was forced to move to center in Week 3 because of an injury to David Andrews, Onwenu slid in to play left guard. When Shaq Mason was a late scratch in Week 4, Onwenu was tapped to play right guard. When things went to hell along the line last weekend against the Broncos, Onwenu played left guard, right guard and right tackle.

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To this point in the season, if you have a look at Pro Football Focus' grades for offensive line play, you'll see Onwenu rated as the second-highest graded offensive lineman in football. It's early. There's plenty of time for movement. But PFF typically has a good idea of who's playing well and who isn't along the line. Every year going back to 2012, at least one of their top-two linemen has ended up as an AP first or second-team All-Pro choice.


In 138 pass-blocking snaps, he's allowed just four pressures. And if you focus in on his run-blocking PFF grade, he's fifth in football -- ahead of guys like Niners 2018 top-10 pick Mike McGlinchey and Rams stalwart veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth. He's just behind four-time first-team All-Pro Zack Martin.

At 6-foot-3, 350 pounds, Onwenu's strength is his strength -- something Bill Belichick used to say about former Patriots Pro Bowl center Dan Koppen. But he's been incredibly versatile for a player who was considered by some scouts to be a guard-only prospect coming out of Michigan. And his athleticism, in a system that values athletic linemen, has been no issue.

Just have a look at some of the eye-opening moments he's strung together through five games, which we've combed through for you below. He's leading the charge on screens. He's pulling. He's reaching defensive linemen. He's passing off stunts.

Athleticism. Awareness. Power. It's all there. In slow motion.

Again, it's early. But it's safe to say the arrow is pointing up on the player who used to get enjoyment out of "burping" opponents, meaning hearing the air come out of their lungs when he pinned them to the ground.

With Jermaine Eluemunor on injured reserve with an ankle injury he suffered last weekend, Onwenu looks like the most logical candidate to fill in. Surely the Patriots are hoping he'll be able to keep his impressive stretch of play rolling against a defense that has a reputation for making life hell for opposing quarterbacks.