Editor's note: Our weeklong Falcons Building Blocks series started Tuesday and focuses on five young talents who will be counted on to start a new era of sustained success. These players must hit certain marks to be included. They must be working on a rookie contract. They must be 27 or younger. They must be thriving already, with leadership qualities and potential for even better down the line. While rookies aren't preferred considering they've never played an NFL snap at this point, I'm super comfortable with Kyle Pitts on the list. Our fifth building block is a bit more established. The latest installment focuses on linebacker Foye Oluokun.
Foye Oluokun's unique journey to the NFL is well documented. If you don't know about it, read up. It's a good one. The son of Nigerian immigrants with Yale smarts and NFL physical skills is more than just a great story.
He's a darn good player. Don't believe me? Just watch this:
The former sixth-round pick without an NFL combine or Senior Bowl invite is now an established starting NFL linebacker, someone expected to anchor the Falcons defense now and possibly into the future.
The conditional in that last sentence refers to Oluokun's contract status. He'll be an unrestricted free agent after the 2021 season, creating some uncertainty about whether he'll be around long-term. The Falcons have already paid Deion Jones handsomely. Will they find a way to retain keep his partner in crime?
They should. Especially if Oluokun plays like he did last year, when he had 117 tackles, three sacks, four forced fumbles, four passes and two interceptions playing mostly at weakside linebacker. Not too bad for 2018's No. 200 overall pick, though it isn't a true breakout year.
Oluokun proved he could play at this level as a rookie, filling in admirably at middle linebacker when Jones dealt with a foot injury. He started seven games and had 91 tackles that season an excellent start to an unexpected career. Few go from the Ivy League to the NFL. A minuscule number truly thrives.
Oluokun is that rare case, now a feature player in a quality linebacker corps. The Falcons' obvious defensive strength features Jones, upstart Mykal Walker and Oluokun in prominent roles. They're athletic, tough and agile. They're smart and savvy. They're a source of stability for a secondary and defensive front that simply must improve in 2021. Oluokun is the very definition of a modern linebacker. He isn't the 255-pounder with a neck roll and an intimidating face mask who can only play downhill. He's 6-foot-2, 218 pounds and can run, cover and tackle. He's part of a larger NFL trend valuing linebacker versatility, and that's not going away anytime soon.
Jones is under contract through 2023, with a current deal structure that virtually ensures he'll be around the next two seasons at least. Walker's career is just getting started. Oluokun's a veteran now, someone just entering his prime. He's definitely someone to build around, a point he can emphatically prove by executing new coordinator Dean Pees' new scheme well.
That should set him up for a second pact with the Falcons and an opportunity to help lead this Falcons defense toward a more prosperous future.
We are looking for passionate Falcons fans for our new Dirty Birds Nest for the 2021 Falcons season! This new, general admission fan zone (formerly section 134) is priced at $900 per person and will be a game day energy source where like-minded fans can lead chants, cheer wildly and be the ultimate connection between the excitement on the field and in the stands.