You've already read about how the Falcons decided on Drake London with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. But what about the rest of the draft class? How did the Falcons find them? How did they land on them? Through conversations with area scouts and position coaches, those stories unfold. Every Tuesday for the next seven weeks, we'll attempt to tell those stories for every 2022 draft pick by the Falcons.
Arnold Ebiketie takes center stage this week.
By Tori McElhaney
Ryan Doyal can't claim to have seen Arnold Ebiketie first. The Falcons area scout said that was national scout Michael Ross' doing. Ross was scouting Temple at the time (where Ebiketie played from 2017 to 2020), and as he broke down the true seniors in that 2020 class he zeroed in on the joyous and physical edge rusher.
Not too long after Ebiketie got on Ross' radar the edge rusher transferred to Penn State for his graduate year of eligibility. Penn State is Doyal's scouting territory, so - of course - when Ebiketie popped up he knew who to get in touch with. What Ross said to Doyal about Ebiketie stuck with him through the entire pre-draft evaluation process.
"Wait 'till you see this guy, Ebiketie," Doyal remembers Ross saying to him in 2021. "You have to take a look at him."
And he did, and what he saw in 2021 was a player who jumped out at him at every check point.
When he would take in a Penn State practice, Doyal said it was evident that Ebiketie loved the game. It made Doyal stop and think often: "Oh man, this guy really loves it."
Then, he'd turn on Ebiketie's tape. In one season with Penn State Ebiketie shined with 62 tackles (17 for a loss), 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He was a a second-team All-American in 2021, as well as first-team All-Big Ten. His final college season was something years in the making, though, and that was something Doyal saw, too.
Ebiketie came to Temple at 210 pounds. He was light, but in the 2020 season, Doyal said you saw the athlete. But when Ebiketie transferred to Penn State, that's when things really picked up for the edge rusher.
"They did a really good job of developing him from the technical aspects of playing the game," Doyal explained. "You see that jump, but he also continued to gain weight, continued to get stronger."
There was a very tactical and obvious maturation year over year by Ebiketie, not just by way of stats but also in the way he played the game itself. Scouts and coaches alike value this type of development. When they see a player who makes significant improvements in their game every single year, that shows them a player who is coachable and willing to work and evolve. This is a trait the Falcons front office and coaching staff like. And as the evaluation period continued, the Falcons really liked what they saw from Ebiketie, the player and person.
"Things jumped off the tape that he does. He's got athleticism. He's got juice, and just that explosion off the edge," Doyal said. "But really what stands out is just the competitive toughness, just the excitement he plays with. The joy. You see that on the film. And for us? We watch a lot of guys, but (Ebiketie) was fun to watch."
Falcons outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino got ahold of Ebiketie's tape a couple weeks before the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Arthur Smith, Terry Fontenot and a contingent of Falcons scouts were set to make the trip to Mobile soon and Smith wanted his assistants to get him a list of three or four players to watch while he was there. Ebiketie made Monachino's list, even with only a small sample size to work with.
"You saw a guy who's willing to outwork his opponent for production, which - you know - is something you're hoping to see in all the guys," Monachino said, "but he had that consistent motor that ran that hot."
Thus ensued the brunt of the pre-draft process: Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and college pro days. At every stop, Ebiketie was someone the Falcons kept going back to. By the first night of the NFL Draft, the Falcons were set on taking Drake London at No. 8 overall if the board fell the way they thought it would.
So, that meant it was all but a done deal that the Falcons would want to take the best edge rusher off the board early in the second round. That was Ebiketie, and the Falcons traded up to make sure they got him, sending their No. 43 and No. 114 overall pick to the Giants to secure the edge rusher at No. 38.
"There were still some really good players in the draft, but this is the one we had tagged as the guy we really wanted," Monachino said. "... People could have jumped us for the one we wanted. We didn't want to risk it."
From Doyal's perspective, he said it made complete sense why the Falcons would value Ebiketie enough to trade up for him.
"You're trying to build a nucleus on the defense of guys who play the right way, that love the game, that have that football character," Doyal said. "... So, I think if you're going to trade up for someone you want him to be an identity piece for you."
Doyal and Monachino think that's Ebiketie through and through.
There are significant expectations on Ebiketie's shoulders as the Falcons second-round pick. Based on the way the 2022 roster is constructed, it's safe to assume that Ebiketie will play a major role in his rookie year. Monachino said he has no doubt that the Falcons will be able to find a role for Ebiketie "right away."
When it comes to establishing those roles, the outside linebackers coach breaks down the players in his room into categories. He has a big and physical bucket, fast and flexible, tough and effort-filled, smart and strong. Some times he mixes the words and adjusts them, but whatever category a player falls into it becomes their calling card.
Monachino does this so players know the expectation.
"Every guy is going to be asked to do the things that he does best most often," Monachino said.
"So, if Arnold's calling card is fast and physical well then we need to see that every single snap he's out there… We're going to need to see fast and physical all the time."
Doyal said that won't be a problem for Ebiketie, even in his rookie year.
"That urgency that he plays with, if you talk to anyone at Penn State that's how he approaches his study, and that's how he approaches all the stuff off the field… He really checks all the boxes from a character standpoint, someone you want to build around," Doyle said. "Those are the kinds of things that help guys get on the field early and often."
And that's what the Falcons need from Ebiketie in 2022. They need him to be ready to help, early and often and with that joyous, competitive physicality that caught the Falcons eyes to begin with.
The 2022 rookie class has arrived in Flowery Branch, and they got right to work.