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Bright spots in a dim year: Falcons LB Foyesade Oluokun was a 6th-round steal

Oluokun was an unexpected steady hand in the aftermath of Deion Jones’s injury.

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Over the next week or so, we’ll look at the bright spots on this roster we didn’t have the time or energy to really praise during the regular season. After that, we’ll take a closer look at some of the players who didn’t meet our expectations.

Ricardo Allen. Grady Jarrett. Damontae Kazee. The Atlanta Falcons have done yeoman’s work mining gems in the late rounds of the NFL Draft, and the latest addition to their growing group of steals is Foyesade Oluokun, the rookie linebacker out of Yale who was a sturdy presence on a defense decimated by injury.

Oluokun’s ascension as one of the bright spots on Atlanta’s defense is directly correlated to what made 2018 so difficult to watch. With Deion Jones sidelined until Week 13 and the lackluster sophomore effort of Duke Riley, Oluokun found himself with a lot of pressure on his shoulders to pick up the slack. Sixth rounders are rarely thrown to the fires so soon, but he handled it with poise and confidence — not to mention all the fast and physical stuff Coach Quinn espouses — and was one positive from a season that belongs more in a compost pile than our memory bank.

Foyesade, commonly known as Foye, filled in admirably as a full-time linebacker amid Jones’ absence and Riley’s poor level of play. Per Pro Football Focus, among linebackers receiving a minimum 20% of snaps, Oluokun graded out as the NFL’s 46th-ranked linebacker at 64.6, and posted an even better number in coverage at 66.8, good for 29th. He also led the team in tackles with 67 and defensive stops with 31.

That’s extremely impressive for a late-round rookie whose role was expected to be primarily on reserve and on special teams. Traditionally, that’s where you would hope a sixth-rounder could make any sort of positive impact.

Not Oluokun, whose performance in relief has possibly earned him a full-time starting role in 2019. He’s unofficially supplanted Duke Riley on the depth chart already, so the Falcons’ early round draft plans notwithstanding, he’s entered the offseason as the de facto weakside linebacker for next year.

So what plays contributed to his increased snaps? Plays like this one, where he effectively reads the run and pops Ezekiel Elliott to stop him in his tracks.

His most notable play of the season was in Week 14 against Green Bay, where he stayed with Jimmy Graham in coverage and was able to break up the deep pass on the edge of the end zone. That sequence was the subject of our Allen Strk’s GIF of the Week feature, and he broke it down in-depth right here. It also occurred with Deion Jones on the field, showing the downfield coverage value that Foye can add when paired with Atlanta’s star middle linebacker.

Foyesade Oluokun has gone from intriguing sixth-round project to capable NFL starter in a season’s time, and his play was another silver lining in a year where it seemed like nothing could go right. He has definite full-time potential, and we got a glimpse of what he can bring to the table in 2018.