In the first 6 games of the Falcons’ 2020 season, not much has gone right—particularly on defense. Even after an encouraging performance in Week 6, Atlanta is still allowing over 30 points per game and is among the worst pass defenses in the NFL. The bright spots have been few and far between, but aside from the obvious (Grady Jarrett has, predictably, remained awesome) there is one player that has really stood out: third-year LB Foyesade Oluokun.
Oluokun, a former sixth-round pick in 2018, has emerged as the starter opposite star LB Deion Jones this season after two seasons as a rotational player. After an expanded role during his rookie season due to injuries, Oluokun shifted back to a reserve in 2019. He finished with a 62.7 overall PFF grade, or about the level of an average starter. His run defense and tackling have always been fairly strong, but he struggled in coverage over his first two seasons in the league.
Now a starter in 2020, Oluokun has improved his game in all areas. While he’s currently graded out as a 65.9 overall, per PFF, Oluokun has looked more confident and powerful as a tackler and has improved somewhat in coverage. He’s having the best season of his young career as a coverage LB, allowing a 75% completion percentage but just an 85.6 passer rating. Oluokun notched his first career interception against the Vikings and also added a pass deflection.
It’s very hard to look good on a defense as poor as Atlanta’s, but Oluokun has found a way to impress on a near-weekly basis. He forced 3 fumbles against Dallas in Week 2, flying to the football and making a huge impact before leaving with injury. In Week 5 against Carolina, Oluokun piled up 14 total tackles—including 12(!!) solo—and a TFL. He’s clearly emerged as an above-average starting LB alongside Deion Jones, who had been struggling to start the season before a good game against Minnesota.
The emergence of Oluokun as a quality starter is big for the future of this Falcons team. On defense, Atlanta has many holes—particularly at EDGE and safety—heading into 2021. With LB well under control with Jones, Oluokun, and rookie Mykal Walker, that’s one area the team doesn’t need to address. Having a number of quality pieces to build around could also help entice possible HC/GM candidates.
We’ve still got a lot of season to go, but the Falcons have to be encouraged about the play they’ve seen from Oluokun thus far. What about you, Falcons fans? Who are some of the standout players you’ve noticed in the first six games of the season?