A native of Nigeria who grew up speaking English before his family trekked to Washington, D.C., Jeremiah Attaochu was a soccer star before he even picked up a pigskin.
In fact, it was mostly by accident he ended up on the Archbishop Carroll High School football team.
He was in line for “athletic team physicals” hoping to make the soccer team. The freshman football coach was sitting behind a desk and asked Attaochu how big he was.
“6-foot-1, 185 pounds.”
The coach told him he was playing football, not soccer.
A shy kid, Attaochu knew to do what an adult told him. So he signed up for football and was made a wide receiver.
“I didn’t even know how to put pads on; I needed somebody else’s help. I was horrible,” Attaochu told the San Diego Tribune in 2014. “Then they made me a linebacker and it came to me naturally. I got promoted to varsity the next year because I was significantly better than everyone else.”
With a lot of athletic gifts, he only needed four years of high school football to get recruited to Georgia Tech, where he tallied 31.5 sacks in his career, a school record.
Drafted by the Chargers in 2014, Attaochu’s pro career was very promising as his NFL debut included a blocked punt and strip sack, and his second year led to being a starting outside linebacker who amassed 52 tackles and six sacks.
The Broncos signed Attaochu to a one-year deal for $805,000 on Oct. 1 after a season-ending injury to Bradley Chubb, and the outside linebacker won over a head coach who initially wasn’t very excited about his new player.
“I wasn’t that fired up or impressed early, but he’s won me over,” Vic Fangio said of the linebacker.
In his first six games with the Broncos, three of which he played, Attaochu had no stats to support his case. Against Buffalo, he finally put some numbers on the board with four tackles in the Broncos’ 20-3 loss.
The following week, Attaochu was called up as a starter in place of an injured Von Miller, and he contributed three tackles and a QB hit in Denver’s 23-20 win.
But it was the next week in Houston where fans started paying attention to this linebacker with a difficult-to-figure-how-to-pronounce last name.
Attaochu record two sacks against the very elusive DeShaun Watson and also was part of possibly the Broncos’ best defensive play of the season. Recovering a fumble, Attaochu heard a plea from Kareem Jackson to give him the ball - which he did. And that move created a 70-yard touchdown play by Jackson.
“I was just trying to keep the play alive, and Kareem was right there calling for the ball,” Attaochu said after the game. “I could see everyone kind of standing around waiting for the whistle and I knew we had nothing to lose. That’s how I’ve been playing lately.”
#Texans fumble.... #Broncos LB Jeremiah Attaochu picks up the ball, hands it to Kareem Jackson, who returns it for a 68-yard TD.— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 8, 2019
Jackson is back in Houston after spending his first 9 seasons there.
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/f9VE2Zx7CN
Attaochu would get another 1.5 sacks and three QB hits in the final three games of the season, giving him some nice tape for Fangio and his defensive coordinator to consider for a new contract.
“His skill set fits us,” Ed Donatell said near the end of the season. “He’s a guy with size and explosion, and he fits our outside linebacker criteria. He fits better than with the other teams he was with because we are a true 3-4 (scheme) and he can have the rush and drop enough to help us. He keeps progressing and he’s a smart player.”
What kind of contract could he get
OverTheCap.com valued Attaochu’s 2019 play at $1.68 million, and that seems like a decent number for the 27-year-old OLB in 2020 - a one-year deal worth about twice as much as his 2019 contract.
For comparison, Aaron Lynch of the Bears signed a one-year deal for about $1.5 million last year in a backup role, and that seems like a good base to consider Attaochu.
Why the Broncos shouldn’t sign him
Since there aren’t a ton of good pass rushers on the market this offseason, Attaochu’s worth could be inflated a bit in the market - and he may find a team needing a starter rather than a backup.
Why the Broncos should re-sign him
Can you have too many good pass rushers on a defense? No.
Well, probably. But you can’t have too many solid back-ups, who know the system, have shown some aptitude in it, and are still relatively young and healthy. Plus, a 31-year-old Von Miller may not be as invincible as before - which we saw in 2019 when he missed his first game since 2014. And Chubb will be coming off an injury, so he may see some limited snaps early on.
Given Attaochu’s scheme fit and impressive improvement over a short period of time - after being thrown into the fire with a complicated defensive scheme - it speaks volumes that Attaochu could make an impact.
Plus, Von Miller likes him, calling the Nigerian native whose sack dance is a take-off of the traditional “Shaku Shaku” dance “a hell of a talent.”
Vic Fangio likes him.
Ed Donatell likes him.
Von Miller likes him.
Deshaun Watson and Derek Carr probably can’t stand him.
That’s good enough for me to recommend a re-signing.
Should the Broncos re-sign Jeremiah Attaochu?
This poll is closed
Yes. Yes. Yes.
No, but I don’t really have a good reason. (KIDDING! You can say no if you dare).