FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Ade Ogundeji lines up against an offensive lineman on the edge of the opponent's protection, he sees a chess match before him. When you're working across a defensive line or in pass rush, he said it isn't dissimilar to sitting across from someone looking to make a move that you are trying to counter. In theory, it's chess. Pass rush is just more physical.
"Defensive line is a reactionary position," Ogundeji explained. "You have to react to who's punching you, what they're setting to you, different things like that. As the game goes on I think you realize that you have to mix it up. Playing d-line and pass rush is chess. You have to see what your opponent is doing and do different things to get by him."
Ogundeji was the Falcons fifth round pick in the 2021 Draft. It was slightly surprising to see him fall to that late of a round, but the Falcons are no strangers to late-round defensive picks becoming key pieces of their production (Grady Jarrett and Foye Oluokun would like a word). The vision for Ogundeji is no different. Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said a couple weeks ago that there is a lofty expectation for Ogundeji within this organization. The Falcons see Ogundeji being the "bell cow" of the position group one day, and they're preparing him for this role even now.
"At some point, he's going to be a guy who goes in and impacts games for us," Monachino said. "It may take a little longer because he's a fifth round pick instead of a first round pick. But we still have the same expectation."
And truly, it's not like the former fifth round pick isn't making a difference in his first year. He is.
Ogundeji has become a primary role player for the Falcons in pass rush. As each game passes, you're seeing Ogundeji's live reps grow in number, and he's benefiting from that extended playing time, earning his first career sack against the Jets in London. With Dante Fowler out with a knee injury, Ogundeji's role only continues to grow in his absence.
So, how did Ogundeji earn this role so early? Well, for starters, there are certain things Ogundeji does in his individual game that makes him mature beyond his limited league experience.
When asked about Ogundeji, fellow outside linebacker Steven Means said Ogundeji knows how to use his length and his body to his advantage. It's something Means said a lot of players have to learn to do when they first get into the league. Ogundeji already knew how to do it, and do it well.
The rookie said it was something he really tapped into in his senior year at Notre Dame.
"I learned that God gave me a gift in my long arms so I need to use them," he said. "I started using them more and more in my last year in college, so now it's about just developing it more in the NFL."
Monachino called Ogundeji's ability to use his length as his most "dominant trait" as a pass rusher. His overall size and length? Monachino said those are things he uses to his advantage "all the time," as Means pointed out, too.
"I didn't have to convince him to do that," Monachino said. "That's how he's been a good football player. It's because he's always understood that."
The speed at which Ogundeji has been able to pick up Dean Pees' scheme is important in this conversation, too. Speaking with Ogundeji he seems to have a disdain for complacency. If he's not making consistent moves towards a goal, he sees it as moving backwards.
"You're either getting better or you're getting worse," he said. "I think that - for me - is what I think about every single day."
With more responsibility coming his way on Sunday, Ogundeji's chance to be a game changer probably comes earlier than expected, but that doesn't mean he's not ready. He's proven through the first five games of the season that he is.
"There's not one situation that comes up in a practice or in a game that I would be concerned to play him," Monachino concluded.
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Atlanta Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Kris Rhim. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.
Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.