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'He's always been that guy:' How the Falcons found value three times over in Ruke Orhorhoro

The Falcons packaged draft picks together to move up in the 2024 NFL Draft to select Ruke Orhorhoro with the No. 35 overall pick. This is the story of how they landed on the Clemson defensive tackle. 

Finding Falcons is a series that ventures beyond Atlanta's decision to draft a specific player and reveals the why behind doing so. Exclusive interviews with Falcons position coaches, area scouts and the decision-makers at the top detail the moments that solidified the decision to draft each of the men who make up their 2024 draft class. For eight consecutive weeks, we'll tell those stories.

Last week, we detailed the story of how *Michael Penix Jr. solidified the Falcons’ conviction to draft him No. 8 overall.* This week, we move on to the second round, spotlighting Ruke Orhorhoro's journey to Atlanta.

Stories by Tori McElhaney

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – As the Falcons' southeast area scout, Shepley Heard knows his way around the facilities at the University of Clemson. He's well-versed in how head coach Dabo Swinney runs his practices. He has his sources and knows who to talk to in order to get honest information about the players on his radar.

Over the years, a player who constantly popped up on that radar was Ruke Orhorhoro. So, Heard did what any good scout would do: He asked questions and sought answers.

Conversations are an integral part of the scouting process. Without the flow of information about the player in question, how would a team like the Falcons feel any conviction to draft him? Film can only tell you half the story. Conversations with those who know the player best add the other half, and for the Falcons, that half carries significant weight.

What's most interesting about these conversations between Falcons scouts and – in this case – Clemson coaches and personnel is that they sometimes start with the simplest of questions.

"Who is that?"

A few years ago, well before Orhorhoro declared for the 2024 NFL Draft, this was the question Heard asked as the defensive lineman ran by him on a practice field. It was this question that sparked more, emboldening Heard to keep his eyes and ears on Orhorhoro even as other draft prospects came and went.

What he saw and heard about Orhorhoro went beyond his dominant physical frame, which measured out at 6-foot-4, 294 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"He's a big guy, yes, but he brings a lot of energy," Heard said. "You walk out to practice and he's the one that's got juice. He's running around. He's vocal. He's getting guys going."

From the first practice to the last, that's what Heard saw from Orhorhoro every single time.

"He's always been that guy," Heard said. "They've always talked about him the same way, whether it's, 'This guy brings the energy. This guy is one of the hardest workers on our team. This guy is one of the best leaders on our team.' It's always been consistent with that guy."

Clemson defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro (33) plays against Florida State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

The character makeup only adds to the way Orhorhoro looks and plays, too, which is always among the first things to catch people's attention.

Take Orhorhoro's new position coach, Jay Rodgers, for example. He didn't have the luxury of seeing Orhorhoro at practice, nor could he get the boots-on-the-ground information firsthand the way Heard could. Rodgers' first exposure to Orhorhoro was the tape.

Quickly, Rodgers said, he was able to establish that Orhorhoro "has the profile to be a really good football player in the National Football League."

"He does some things that a lot of other people can't do," Rodgers said, "because of the things that he can bring to the table."

What are those things? Well, it starts with Orhorhoro's ability to use his length to lock guys out, his power to knock people back and his speed to get off blocks. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Orhorhoro has the physical traits for success on the gridiron.

"There's a lot of plays that come his direction that have to go elsewhere," Rodgers explained. "And when you start to see that presence in the middle of the defense, that's of value to an NFL team, especially us."

Long-time defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and recent newcomer David Onyemata are both closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, and everyone understands that. It's why there was such conviction by the Falcons to find reliable youth that could partner with Jarrett and Onyemata in the near future.

Enter a large and energetic Orhorhoro. However, there's one more word that can be used to describe him: Versatile.

Throughout his years with Clemson, it wasn't uncommon to see Orhorhoro utilized all across the Tigers' defensive front. From zero- to nine-techniques, Orhorhoro did a little bit of everything through his college years. This is something the Falcons' front office has valued since Terry Fontenot took over as general manager in 2021.

Even with a new coaching staff, the value in versatility is as evident as ever. Rodgers said he begins every new year in the defensive line room with the same mantra: "The more you can do, the more you get to do."

In this way, Orhorhoro fits perfectly, seeing as his skill set allows the Falcons options in placement and usage.

"You feel like he's almost a piece of clay that you can continue to mold," Heard said.
"And we feel like he's going to continue to get better and better. Of course, that's what we hope."

It's a hope that ultimately brought Orhorhoro to Atlanta, a place in need of versatile, big-bodied and energetic defensive linemen.

"He's everything we preach from a scouting standpoint of the type of guy we want to bring in here," Heard said.

Take a look at the new faces in Flowery Branch as the rookies practice during minicamp.

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