Editor's Note: This story is the third in's "Road to the Draft" series.

The series will give behind-the-scenes looks at the Falcons evaluation and scouting process leading up to the NFL Draft on April 28-30.

By Kris Rhim

ATHENS, Ga. — Adetokunbo "Tumbo" Abanikanda has attended college pro days for almost a decade.

He served as Falcons Southeast area scout for seven years before being promoted to a national scout last May, responsible for the first evaluation of future Falcons stars like Jake Matthews, Deion Jones and Kyle Pitts, among many others.

But one player's pro day stands out.

A.J. Terrell had already done enough to solidify himself as a first-round pick. Abanikanda liked everything about what Terrell did on the field, and his 6-foot-1, almost 200-pound frame gave him the ideal size for the position. When Terrell was "out of his environment," as Abanikanda put it, at the NFL Combine, Terrell still looked smooth, comfortable, and quick through drills, including a blazing to a 4.42 40-yard dash.


So, when Terrell's pro day came around, Abanikanda already knew almost everything there was to know about Terrell, the athlete. He still wanted to see how Terrell did in position drills, but the most critical looming questions on Abanikanda's mind were things unrelated to the football field.

They were questions he would have of any draft pick, especially for Terrell, who would be playing in his native city.

Could Terrell handle being a millionaire in the city he was raised in? Would there be too many distractions that could hinder his success? Is he a guy who struggled with making meetings in college? Will he need a veteran to look after him in his first year?

Abanikanda worked to find those answers throughout the scouting process but solidified them at Terrell's pro day when he talked with teammates, family, and coaches.

"A.J., I would say, he was a perfect example of that kid who had value," Abanikanda said about Terrell, who is now one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, "and who I valued, as far as character. ... And it translated into the NFL, obviously."

The Falcons will look vastly different next season. Their innumerable needs compounded with Matt Ryan gone to Indianapolis and Calvin Ridley suspended for at least the 2022 season. General manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith will look to fill those holes by relying on Abanikanda and other scouts' talent evaluation. College pro days stand as one of the most valuable parts of the evaluation process.

"This is at the point of the process where you can finally get up close and personal with these guys, get to know these guys," Abanikanda said. "Pro day is kind of like icing on the cake. …The most important part of this process is getting to know the player at this point, figuring this guy out because you know we're bringing this guy into our building, and you wanna bring in good people."

Abanikanda and I spent the day together at the University of Georgia's pro day, where a record 122 NFL personnel were in attendance to see a group that could produce four to five first-round picks.

Abinkanda's day begins at 6:30 a.m. We head through the down-pouring rain to Georgia's indoor facility, as he juggles following the GPS while trying to navigate the rainy terrain.

When we arrive at the facility, we're split for a few hours as he heads into player interviews. Then he's among the group of NFL personnel addressed privately by Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

After measurements, players begin with the vertical jump and bench press. Abinkanda and other scouts group together, cracking jokes and catching up before players get going.

Many scouts look puzzled in search of confirmation from others as Mercer offensive tackle Jason Poe puts up 34 reps on the bench press with ease, the most of the session, and jumped 31.5 inches for the vertical.

Just a few hours in, this pro day is already a stark difference from those last season.

In 2021, pro days were scouts' only chance for the in-depth evaluation they typically have leading up to the NFL draft. They were forced to evaluate players from the stands at practices during the college season. The NFL Combine was canceled, which hindered all 32 teams from having access to verified medical reports, measurements, and 40-yard dash times.

NFL personnel were not permitted to go inside schools to speak with coaches or players throughout the season, making pro day's their last-ditch effort to compile information that generally would be gathered over months.

"Everything started there," Abanikanda said. "You had to put a lot of emphasis on numbers. You had to put a lot of emphasis on character because we were so limited. We didn't have the access that we had in the past. So we had to be real diligent, we had to be really careful. In terms of the information that we gathered, we had to make sure that we got the guys right."

Through all of the figurative hurdles thrown in their direction last year, the Falcons still got their first-round pick right. They selected tight end Kyle Pitts, who made the Pro Bowl in his first season. Still, the return to normalcy is a breath of fresh air for Abanikanda. It allows him to utilize the pro day for what he's always focused on: confirmation of an athlete's physical traits and fit, but, most importantly, answering off-the-field questions.

So Abanikanda is watching players go through drills, he's laughing in disbelief with all other scouts as Jordan Davis and Travon Walker show their freak athleticism. And he's talking to parents, coaches, even players in between reps.

These conversations could be the difference between Abanikanda vouching for a player to be drafted in Atlanta or remaining uneasy about how successful a player could become with the Falcons.

"You want to bring people that, you know, work," Abanikanda said. "You want to bring people who would be good representatives of the Atlanta Falcons. This is the part where you really get to know the person that you are bringing into the family."


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