The Rams entered the 2010 draft determined to find a suitable tight end for their offense, which is a bare necessity for the West Coast offense that they run.
We know now that they probably could’ve solved their problem at the position by drafting Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez in the 4th round, rather than Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard. But instead, the Rams opted to dedicate one of their 5th and 6th round picks to their search for a tight end.
They weren’t as successful in their tight end search as the New England Patriots were in that draft, as the Pats brought in Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but the Rams certainly found two possible late round gems.
In the 5th round they drafted Mike Hoomanawanui out of Illinois, and in the 6th round they picked up Fendi Onobun, a no name basketball player out of Arizona.
Hoomanawanui, or Big Mike, was not fully utilized in the Illini offense. He was viewed as mostly a blocking tight end, but some (including the Rams) felt he actually did have some receiving talent, but the poor quarterback play at Illinois didn’t shed any light on that talent.
Onobun, as mentioned, was a basketball player out of Arizona (ex-basketball players Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates indicate that maybe it’s a good thing). He transfered to Houston in 2009 to play football, and was a key part to the team’s special teams unit. He had little playing experience, and is still considered extremely raw, but the Rams could not ignore his athletic upside. At 6’6″ and 252 pounds he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.48 seconds and had a 37.5 inch vertical jump.
They were both intriguing prospects, but it was time to see what they could offer the team, rather than the scouts.
The talent of Big Mike was first apparent during the third preseason game against the Patriots. He caught rookie quarterback Sam Bradford’s first two touchdown passes of the preseason during that game, both coming on beastly red-zone receptions, which required him to muscle his way into the end-zone.
Onobun did not have quite the success during the preseason. He received very little playing time, but he did have a nice 33 yard reception during the game against New England. He also had receptions of 8 and 15 yards the following week against the Baltimore Ravens.
After the regular season got underway, Onobun was kept around as primarily a special teams player, but Big Mike was ready to start contributing as a receiver. Things did not play out exactly the way they would’ve liked them to.
During the opening game against Arizona, Big Mike had his first NFL reception for 8 yards, but he received a high ankle sprain, which kept him sidelined the next four games. He receiver another sprain after week 12, which kept him out for the remainder of the season. Onobun, on the other hand, was put on the injury reserve list for a back injury in November.
However, even though they were tormented with injuries, it was not all bad. Onobun was a special teams player, and no one really expected him to contribute as a receiver anyway; and Big Mike made had some flashes of hope during the time he was healthy.
During week 7 against Tampa Bay, only his second game back from his first ankle sprain, Mike caught a goal-line touchdown pass, which was the first of his career. Against the Atlanta Falcons (week 11) he racked up four catches for 46 yards, including a 25 yard touchdown reception. The success he has against the Falcons continued the following week against the Denver Broncos, where he caught a 36 yard touchdown pass for his sole catch of the game.
He was injured again in the game against Denver, which ultimately became his last game of the year. It was a shame, as he was really starting to heat up and contribute to the offense.
The injuries should probably be a bit of a concern, but most people have been able to overlook them.
Rams fans have not really been clamoring about the possibility of Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph in the second round, or how the team should sign a tight-end when free-agency opens. It is really a mute topic, which is a good sign that people are generally excited with the two young tight-ends already on the team. It should be interesting to follow their development.