Much of the talk surrounding Atlanta’s defense coming out of the Week 8 win against Carolina has been largely negative, and rightfully so. Therefore, I thought I’d give us all a slight break from the gloomy opinions about the defensive woes and shed light on a true positive.
Rookie second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie feels like he’s on the verge of a real breakout string of games for a Falcons team looking to continue to surprise people. On the list of developments that would provide a nice boost to such a goal, that would be near the top.
So, why do I believe that could be the case?
According to Pro Football Focus, Ebiketie has registered 19 total pressures this season. Pressures are a cumulative stat that combines the number of sacks, quarterback hits and hurries a player has. Among rookie edge defenders through the first eight weeks, Ebiketie ranks third in total pressures behind second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson (22) and 30th-overall pick George Karlaftis (20).
Ebiketie has more pressures than fifth-overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux (17), although the Giants’ pass rusher has played two fewer games, and first overall pick Trayvon Walker (16).
Walker, however, has three sacks to his name. Hutchinson leads all rookies with five in just seven games. Ebiketie, meanwhile, has only one sack this season – and it came in Week 1. But like a batter who’s seen a string of hard-hit outs, he’s bound to knock one into the gap eventually.
During each Falcons game, take a moment to locate No. 47 before a handful of defensive plays and watch only him from the snap to the whistle. If he’s rushing the passer, there’s a chance it’s going to be fun. Ebiketie has a really impressive outside speed rush, where he seems to almost surprise tackles with either his bend, his press strength, or a combination of both. He also pairs very well with Grady Jarrett on twists and stunts and doesn’t shy away from contact as a power rusher.
Arnold Ebiketie is going to be stupid good. The box score stats will match the tape eventually.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) October 17, 2022
He's third among all rookies in pressures (14) and closing fast despite having 30-50 fewer snaps than number one and number two on the list (Karlaftis with 17 and Hutchinson with 15). pic.twitter.com/t5RihTjOZf
Now, I’m not saying he’s Khalil Mack or anything crazy like that. And ultimately the sack production will need to accompany some of these positive indicators or else he’ll be undoubtedly criticized.
But for a rookie on a defense that has no household name on the defensive front outside of Grady Jarrett, what Ebiketie has done so far is mighty impressive. As with every young player, there’s still development that needs to take place. The tools are in place, though, and his 11.8 percent win rate – the same as Hutchinson – is a sign of his potential. The improvement he’s shown as the season has progressed is another reason to believe good things might be around the corner.
Aside from his sack in Week 1, Ebiketie wasn’t showing up much on the stat sheet early. In Week 4, he had a really strong performance with six total pressures. Ebiketie earned his first start against the 49ers in Week 6 and played possibly his best game of the year. It was his highest-graded game of the season, according to PFF, and it kicked off his current hot streak. Of Ebiketie’s 19 pressures, 10 have come in the last three games.
The Los Angeles Chargers, the team next up on the docket, have allowed only 10 sacks this season, which is the fewest in the NFL. Justin Herbert ranks near the very bottom in terms of air yards per pass, which indicates a short passing game, but he has the seventh-longest average time to throw this season. While the Chargers' offensive line has played very well this season, injuries have hit the group and they have surrendered five sacks in their last two games.
Ebiketie has earned an increased role as his rookie year rolls along, and he looks like one of the most dangerous players on the field when rushing the passer. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at the box score, but the young edge rusher passes just about every other test. When that next sack comes, I think there’s a good chance a good deal more will follow.
Perhaps that next sack is just a few days away.