The Falcons pass rushing group is sure to improve in 2022. Still, 18 sacks, which is what Atlanta recorded last season, is an incredibly low bar to reach. And the surprise of Atlanta’s pass rushers is 2021 fifth-round pick Ade Ogundeji.
“Ade, quietly, continues to get better,” Arthur Smith said.
Given his draft slot, expectations weren’t outrageous for Ogundeji. Day 3 selections are never expected to step on the field and contribute immediately; however, the Notre Dame product actually had a decent rookie season.
He started 11 games while appearing in 16 contests, totaling 33 tackles and one sack. Ogundeji also ranked third on the team with five tackles for loss. Despite being a mid-to-late round draft pick, he gave the Falcons solid run support and improved his pass rush arsenal as the season progressed.
Falcons outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino even went as far as to say he overachieved. He also said expectations are much higher for Ogundeji entering 2022.
“He probably overachieved last year,” Monachino said. “And in that time, you know, through 17 games, he was able to figure out the things he needed to work on to be better. We expect him to take a major step forward.”
What makes Ogundeji so intriguing as an EDGE defender is his size. With 35-inch arms, he’s able to keep offensive linemen away from his body. His most impressive pass rushing move is different variations of the long-arm, but he’ll need to better refine his hand placement and add even more moves to his arsenal, particularly counter moves.
Ogundeji played nearly half of the team’s defensive snaps last season, and I would only expect that number to increase. Despite the Falcons drafting two EDGE defenders in the 2022 NFL Draft, Atlanta can’t expect Arnold Ebiketie or DeAngelo Malone to handle the load that Ogundeji will garner. And they probably don’t.
Lorenzo Carter and Ogundeji seem primed to take the starting spots, but the two rookies have much higher upside given their natural pass rushing prowess. There’s a real possibility with a full offseason of strength and conditioning that Ogundeji will command those pass rushing snaps, but given his ability to defend the run, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was an early-down specialist. The Falcons expect him to take a massive step forward, and the defense will need it if they’re to be an even halfway respectable unit. Multiple players totaled more individual sacks than the Falcons did as a team, so Atlanta is desperate for Ogundeji to be a key piece in 2022.
Arthur Smith isn’t one to just throw around praise. When he compliments individuals, it should be highlighted. He pointed out a few second-year players the staff has been impressed with — Ogundeji being one of them.
“He’s starting to figure it out,” Arthur Smith said.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire