The numerous injuries the Falcons suffered in 2018 thrusted the team's rookies into action early and often. For Atlanta's defensive players, that experience could lead to some notable improvement as they head into their second year.
The Falcons drafted three defensive players in the 2018 NFL Draft: Cornerback Isaiah Oliver, defensive tackle Deadrin Senat and linebacker Foye Oluokun. Of those three, it was Oluokun, a sixth-round pick, who had the biggest impact as a rookie, but Oliver and Senat are both poised to play important roles in this upcoming season.
With a new rookie class incoming for the Falcons, let's reflect on the performance of last season's first-year defenders, starting with Oluokun.
- Drafted: Round 6 (No. 244 overall)
- Position: Linebacker
- Performance: Above average
A safety at Yale, Oluokun made the transition to linebacker with the Falcons and it became immediately clear that he was both intelligent and focused. Oluokun received praise from the coaching staff for his ability to retain information and translate that to the field, and it was clear he was ready to handle more responsibilities as the season progressed.
In Atlanta's first three games, Oluokun played four, 15 and 18 defensive snaps, respectively. Those were, expectedly, his fewest of the season, and Oluokun quickly began to play around 40-50 snaps for much of the remainder of the season. He ultimately played 48 percent of Atlanta's defensive snaps, the second most of any linebacker, behind De'Vondre Campbell.
Of course, Deion Jones' injury in the season opener paved the way for Oluokun to see increased snaps, but he handled himself well as a rookie. Oluokun started seven games in 2018 and recorded 91 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. His 91 combined tackles were the eight-most among all rookie defenders in the NFL. Notably, each of the seven rookies ahead of him were selected in the first three rounds; not bad for a sixth-round pick who started just seven games.
- Drafted: Round 2 (No. 58 overall)
- Position: Cornerback
- Performance: Average
After spending much of the year as a reserve cornerback, Oliver is poised to assume starting duties opposite of Desmond Trufant in 2019. Oliver started two games for the Falcons in 2018, in Week 4 against the Cincinnati Bengals and in Week 9 against the Washington Redskins. In those two games, Oliver recorded a combined eight tackles and three pass defenses.
Outside of his two starts, Oliver played 109 snaps, with 79 of those snaps coming in the final four games of the season. Oliver had a couple of rough moments, as all rookie cornerbacks do, but he did come along as the season progressed, especially in the last four games when he saw more playing time.
Oliver ended his first season with 23 tackles, seven pass defenses and an interception.
- Drafted: Round 3 (No. 90 overall)
- Position: Defensive tackle
- Performance: Average
Of the Falcons' three rookie defenders in 2018, Senat was most consistently part of the rotation. Senat played 20 snaps in Atlanta's season opener, and he fluctuated between 13 and 36 snaps throughout the season.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn rotates frequently along the defensive line, and Senat had a nice role in Atlanta's base package. Like Oliver, the third-round draft pick made two starts during his rookie season and remained a steady part of the interior defensive line group.
As a rookie, Senat recorded 30 tackles, two tackles for a loss and had three hits on opposing quarterbacks. Atlanta signed former Saints defensive tackle Tyeler Davison this offseason, but Senat figures to remain involved with the potential for an increased role in his second season.