This offseason, the Atlanta Falcons added 26 rookies to the roster, with 20 of them being undrafted free agents. Although the path to making the roster is difficult, it’s not impossible as UDFA’s from years past such as offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder have gone on to make an impact for the Falcons.
Throughout my UDFA series this year I’ve had the opportunity to speak with fullback Mikey Daniel, offensive tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk, linebacker Jordan Williams, defensive end Austin Edwards and defensive tackle Sailosi Latu with the goal to allow fans to get to know them better. With the NFL reportedly considering expanding the practice squads to as much as 16 players, if any of those listed above don’t make the opening day roster, they have a good shot at landing on the practice squad and potentially compete for a roster spot down the road.
Today, we’ll be getting to know defensive tackle Hinwa Allieu from the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Allieu is listed at 6’5, 290 lbs and brings solid size to the Falcons defensive front. The native of Sierra Leone moved to the United States in 2013, eventually making his way to UNK where he was 3-time All-MIAA.
I was able to speak with Allieu and ask him some questions about his background, his offseason, and making it to the NFL.
After moving to the United States in 2013, how did you get into football?
The way I started playing football was really funny. My coach at the time (Coach O’Daniel) thought I had good size and came up to me and asked me to come try out for the football team. Me being a young kid from Africa, I thought he was talking about soccer, so I said of course. I was very surprised when he gave me pads and a helmet but I just went along with it. And the rest is history after I started learning the game.
How would you summarize your time at Nebraska-Kearney?
My time at UNK was really life-changing for me because that’s where I started gaining my confidence on the football field. I was naturally competitive, so I wanted to stand out and be first at everything we did. I think it was around my sophomore year that people started telling me that I could play D1 football and get drafted. While flattering, I didn’t want to leave the team that took a chance on me when other ones didn’t. I wanted to give my all to my team and make sure that I did everything in my power to help them win games.
With everything going on with COVID-19, did it impact your offseason and preparing for your NFL career?
Yes, COVID-19 affected my training a little bit. But I just had to adapt and find ways to get my workouts in regardless of the situation.
Have you discussed what your role would be with the Falcons’ staff?
Ultimately, my role is to help the team win games in whatever way I can. And that’s what I’m planning to do.
How familiar were you with the Falcons franchise prior to being drafted?
Just being a fan of the game, I’ve watched the Falcons over the past three years. I always loved watching them play football. You can tell they have a strong organization and a very close brotherhood. Always great to join a strong culture and be a part of something bigger than yourself.
Who do you study and model your game after?
I study all of the great pass rushers to learn from all these players that have played the game over time. But I’ll say the person I watch the most is Aaron Donald who is the greatest defensive lineman of my generation. I watch film on him like everyday and I try to copy his work ethic and leadership on the field.
Falcons University, commonly known as ‘Falcons U’ is a rookie experience that not only allows them to get to know each other, it also prepares them for life in the NFL. Can you describe ‘Falcons U’ and how the experience was for you?
‘Falcons U’ was a place for us rookies to learn how to navigate being a professional athlete. It provided a lot of important information for us rookies that don’t only apply to football, but to life outside of football also. Even though it was through Zoom, I really enjoyed ‘Falcons U’ and it helped me learn a little bit about some of the other rookies I’ll be competing with.
Have you gotten to know any of the Falcons veteran players?
Veteran defensive end Allen Bailey has been the guy I go to if I have questions about football or anything outside of football. He has been very welcoming. The other veterans are all very welcoming too, you can tell that they embrace the brotherhood.
Are you excited for training camp? What are you most looking forward to?
I’m definitely very excited for training camp. I just want to get my pads and helmet back on and get to work. Looking forward to hitting and being outside, flying around and doing what I love.
As impressive as his highlights are, my favorite thing about Allieu is his selflessness. He’s the epitome of a Dan Quinn guy. High-motor, physical and team-oriented. Throughout his collegiate career, Allieu recorded 160 tackles, 15.5 sacks, and 14 quarterback hurries in 44 games for the Lopers. He was listed as a defensive end at UNK, but with his size, the Falcons apparently view him more as a defensive tackle.
Allieu’s path to making the roster won’t be a cake walk, as the defensive line is all of a sudden crowded with nearly 16 players vying for position. Like many UDFAs, it’s going to take a great camp performance to convince the coaching staff to keep him on the roster. I think with Allieu’s size and ability to play both inside and outside, he definitely provides some flexibility along the defensive line.