The 2023 NFL Draft is still over eight months away, but scouts around the league are already on the road getting familiar with the top prospects.
Instead, his destination was Florida A&M, one of the top HBCU programs in college football.
In an exclusive interview with Falcon Report, Florida A&M Director of Recruiting Devin Rispress revealed that star pass rusher Isaiah Land is "the player most sought after" by NFL scouts.
Teams look at essentially every draftable prospect, so the Falcons were bound to roll through Tallahassee at some point. However, Abanikanda made his visit on the first day of Florida A&M's fall camp, clearly putting an added emphasis on the school.
Considering Land's background, there's little surprise.
After arriving on campus at a mere 180 pounds, Land now stands at 6-4, 225 pounds. As a redshirt junior a season ago, he posted 25.5 tackles-for-loss, 19.5 sacks and won the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in the FCS.
Beyond the on-field production, Land was listed at No. 64 on The Athletic's Bruce Feldman's "Freaks" list, a nod to his outstanding testing numbers. He was the only HBCU player on the 100-name list. Among the impressive feats: 4.6 40-yard dash, 6.7 3-cone, 10-9 broad jump, 375-pound bench press, 600-pound squat.
Land, a Buffalo native, later moved to Atlanta and went to high school less than an hour from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Past the local allure, Land fits what the Falcons want from their outside linebackers.
"Schematically, he’s a 3-4 edge," remarked Rispress, "that can get after it."
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The Falcons ranked last in the NFL in sacks by a significant margin a year ago but added to the room in a big way this offseason, using Day 2 draft picks on pass rushers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone.
The primary calling card of both Ebiketie and Malone is high-level effort, backed up by athleticism and production. Land is much the same.
"(Land) is selfless," Rispress said. "Isaiah is a worker; he’s a guy that has a motor that doesn’t stop on the field and in the weight room. He’s also a great person. Over the summer, Power 5 (conference) schools tried to lure him away, but he wanted to stay and finish with his brothers."
As Rispress alluded to, Land had several offers from major programs this off-season, including Texas, LSU and the reigning national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Land opted for loyalty over royalty and will be running it back with a talented team around him.
According to Rispress, scouts have asked about several other Florida A&M players, including receiver Xavier Smith, defensive back Guysen Bohler, kicker Jose Romon Martinez, punter Chris Faddoul and running back A.J. Davis, a Pittsburgh transfer.
The 6-0, 215-pound Davis started 10 of 32 games played with Pitt, running for 991 yards on 238 carries and totaling 41 receptions for 354 yards.
After a breakout 2019 season, Davis saw fewer touches in 2020, and 2021 was off to a similar start, so he entered the transfer portal. Initially deciding on former FCS power turned transitional FBS team James Madison, Davis re-entered the portal on July 12 and committed to Florida A&M 10 days later.
While at Pitt, Davis played in a West Coast offense, something Falcons coach Arthur Smith has at times incorporated into his offense. Much like Land, Davis offers a humble, level-headed locker room presence.
"Great kid," said Rispress. "A lot of kids drop down and come in acting bigtime, but not (Davis). He came in, gelled with the guys, put his head down and went to work. I love the kid. He's a talent."
Florida A&M went 9-3 a season ago, finishing second in the Southwestern Atlantic Conference East Division, right behind Falcons legend Deion Sanders' Jackson State Tigers.
With players like Land and Davis, Florida A&M as a program appears poised to bring the fight once again, starting with a Week 1 contest against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
As Land looks to defend his FCS Defensive Player of the Year award, expect the Falcons to be following along closely, much as they already appear to be.