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Editor's Note: This feature on Falcons inside linebacker Foye Oluokun is the fifth story in's "Meet the Scouts" series.

The series provides insight into key members of the Falcons' player personnel department, and behind the scenes looks at how the Falcons discovered some of their top players.

By Tori McElhaney

Growing up, there was a very specific way Foye Oluokun played any football-based video game. He would take a defensive back and move him to linebacker.

The unorthodox strategy was sound.

They were always faster, so the player could essentially go wherever Oluokun wanted and get there with ease. Oluokun said that, when he was allowed to play video games "back in the day," this was his move with a controller in hand.

Little did a young Oluokun know that he would become a real-life version of the video game player he always found essential, thanks in part to Jeff Ulbrich, Steve Sabo and the Falcons college scouting staff that found him.


Like Grady Jarrett three years before, Oluokun was overlooked as a potentially high draft pick coming out of college in 2018. He was a safety at Yale. He didn't get an invite to the Senior Bowl, nor the NFL Combine. He had a shot to show off his build and talent only at his pro day.

James Bodenheimer, the Falcons northeast area scout at the time, was in attendance. He saw a solid workout and met an intriguing young man. At the same time, Sabo was looking at Oluokun's numbers from the 2017 college season. Now the Falcons director of pro personnel, at the time Sabo was the Falcons director of college scouting. What he saw as he looked at Oluokun on paper piqued his interest.

"I am seeing the numbers, and the numbers kind of pop," Sabo said. "... Now, I can see a bigger picture. You're looking across the stat line and he's got forced fumbles, interceptions, fumble recoveries, sacks, tackles for loss -- all in that '17 season."

Then, you flip on Oluokun's tape. What you see before you is a player deployed…everywhere.

"When we're watching, he's playing corner. Then, the next play he's a single high safety. Next play, he's playing inside linebacker," Sabo said. "In a game, he may have played four and five positions."

Throughout the scouting process, the Falcons front office and defensive coaching staff saw something in Oluokun others didn't. They saw the makings of an NFL linebacker. But at the time, that vision -- for some -- was easy to miss.

"His tape was brutal to watch because you would go through 65-70 plays of Ivy League football and, because he was the best player on the field, they would never go his way. There would be 60 plays of him just running on the backside, chasing," Ulbrich said when he was the Falcons interim defensive coordinator in 2020. "But then you saw two, three snaps a game where you said, 'Oh, there it is.'"

It was an interesting, yet challenging process for Sabo and his team at the time. Like Ulbrich, Sabo said if there were 70 plays in a game, Oluokun would only really play inside five times. There was very limited tape to work off, but the Falcons could see glimpses of what Oluokun could be.

It was a small snippet of a vision, one the Falcons were determined to chase after. And, a few short weeks after his pro day, the Falcons took a chance on the safety from Yale. They selected Oluokun in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was the 200th pick and 27th linebacker selected that year.

"Long story short is: It takes a full group," Sabo said of finding Oluokun. "It took an area scout. It took a crosscheck linebackers scout. It took myself. It took linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, and having a real feel for what he could do for us in our defense. … We projected the heck out of what we felt he could grow into."

But, more than anyone, Sabo said the real credit for Oluokun's development into one of the league's best tacklers and young inside linebackers goes to Oluokun himself.

Everything the Falcons saw through the evaluation process about the person Oluokun was "showed up," Sabo said. Even more manifested as Oluokun grew into the linebacker position under Ulbrich, who is now the Jets defensive coordinator. The Falcons found a diamond in the rough and, with a little polish over the years, Oluokun now shines.

"We could have done all the same work, but if Foye didn't have the right drive or the right work ethic or maybe the moment was just too big for him, then maybe we miss on the pick," Sabo said. "So, a lot of it comes down to Foye."


There's a chip on Oluokun's shoulder, always has been and perhaps always will be as he continues his career in the league. Those who have been a part of his development since he entered the league in 2018 all say the same things: He's never truly content with where he is.

In a sit down interview with last month, Oluokun explained perfection was something he felt he had to get as close to as possible to make this move from college safety to NFL linebacker work.

"It wasn't what I wanted to be known for. It's what I felt like I needed to do to stick because I didn't come from a bigger college," Oluokun said. "I got drafted and people were like, 'Oh, we should have gotten this Georgia linebacker.' I knew if I messed up my shot would be gone."

So he worked, and Ulbrich worked with him. Together, they got Oluokun to where he is now: The NFL's second-leading tackler. It wasn't an easy road to travel. It took -- as Ulbrich once said -- a "rare worker." And that's who many say Oluokun is.

His intelligence makes him rare. Ulbrich and Frank Bush, Oluokun's current linebackers coach, have both commented on Oluokun's ability to not make the same mistake twice.

"He really knows how to handle the information and analytics that go on in football," Bush said. "He probably handles it as well as anyone I've been around."

Bush -- who came to the Falcons from the Jets this year -- said any time he was around Ulbrich in recent years, the former Falcons linebackers coach always brought up Oluokun.

"'Brich' was always saying that this kid was climbing," Bush said.

Asked about the benefits of converting a defensive back to linebacker, both Bush and Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said you can see those advantages in Oluokun. He understands angles, trajectories and, most of all, concepts.

"Most guys can recognize a route, but if you can recognize the concept then you can go put yourself in that concept," Bush said. "Him having been back (in the secondary), he understands that."

Pees says he couldn't be any more pleased with the MIKE linebacker he inherited.

"And I've had some really good MIKE linebackers in my day," he said. "I really feel like as a young linebacker, this guy's got a really, really bright future."

But it wasn't always like this for Oluokun. It took work, that rare work that Ulbrich described.

"Learning the linebacker (position), where I couldn't even see a puller at first, now I am able to read offenses, so it's cool," Oluokun said.

It started in the film room. Oluokun said Ulbrich taught formations really well, and that's where they began. Then, on the field, it was about learning to use his hands. When he first got to the league, Oluokun said he wasn't trying to touch any linemen in front of him because he didn't really know how to get off of them. Early on, he would ultimately bury himself in the block and take himself out of the play. This was one of the early lessons he learned and remedied.

Now, he's one of the Falcons' most dynamic defenders. Looking back, though, Sabo said he'd be lying if he thought the Oluokun they see in 2021 was the ultimate vision for him during the pre-draft evaluation process.

"Back in April of 2018, we were looking to get better depth," Sabo said. "We were looking for a guy to come in and develop. Worst-case scenario is we're hoping he'd be a credible backup and really good special teams player. But then it just evolved from there."

It vision evolved because Oluokun evolved. And he did so in the best way for both himself and the Falcons.

Ask scouts and coaches: They won't take credit for the player Oluokun became. That credit falls on his own shoulders, though humble as he is, he'd likely never say it.

Ask the players around him: They feel his best football is ahead of him.

"Hopefully the league will take notice of the good things that he does making tackles, covering, rushing, whatever he does," Jarrett said. "He's in the position he's in for a reason. (Coaches) trust him. We trust him."

Ulbrich, in 2020, said the same thing.

"I really hope that the league starts to take notice of him," he said, "because I think he is very deserving of the credit of being one of the better linebackers in the league now."

While accolades and recognition are great perks of a prosperous evolution well earned, there's something even more special in Oluokun's story as he worked to get to the point where he's at now. He has morphed himself into a respected NFL linebacker when very few thought he could in his pre-draft days at Yale.

Now, his story comes full circle.

"Coach Ulbrich saw that," Oluokun said. "He kind of made me the video game player I always wanted to be."


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