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Falcons Bye-Week Rookie Review: Arnold Ebiketie - Faith in Pass-Rush Future

During the Atlanta Falcons' bye week, Falcon Report will be examining the rookie seasons of each of the team's draftees (plus a few extra). Up next in the series is second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie, who's offered plenty of encouraging signs off the edge.

At the bye week, the Atlanta Falcons have just one less sack than they did all of last season.

The catch? Atlanta has, of course, already played 13 games thus far ... and ranked dead last a year ago with just 18 sacks, 11 fewer than the next-lowest team.

But nonetheless, there's been progress in the pass rush department - in part because Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith committed substantial resources to improving that area over the offseason.

Be it free agency or draft picks, Atlanta exhausted several options - and appears to have walked away with a potential building block in second-round outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie.

Drafted No. 38 overall, Ebiketie was viewed as the Falcons' best bet to become a long-term answer, and while he's been hot and cold throughout his rookie season, has shown more than enough to inspire confidence that he's on his way to being exactly that.

Adjusting to NFL speed and strength is particularly difficult for rookies at the line of scrimmage, and Ebiketie has shown steady progress throughout while impressing on plays even when he doesn't get to the quarterback.

With 12 games and a start on his resume, here's a look back at Ebiketie's rookie season to date ...

KEY NUMBERS: 28 tackles, 11 quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, two and a half sacks and one forced fumble. Ebiketie ranks second on the Falcons in quarterback hits and third in sacks.

"REMEMBER WHEN": Ebiketie starred in his first career start? Getting the nod in place of the injured Ade Ogundeji, Ebiketie played 82 percent of the defensive snaps in the Falcons' 28-14 victory against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6 and delivered in a big way, recording two quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

BEST OF THE BEST: Ebiketie's most impressive showing came in Atlanta's 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears, as he recorded a season-high six tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and a quarterback hit, proving to be a thorn in quarterback Justin Fields' side.

BIGGEST OBSTACLE: In the midst of the most active stretch of his career, Ebiketie suffered a wrist/forearm injury that knocked him out of the final three quarters against the Washington Commanders and forced him to miss last Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was coming off the Chicago game and already had two tackles and a quarterback hit in just nine snaps vs. Washington before the injury. Set to return after the bye, Ebiketie looks to re-gain his momentum ... but the injury came just as he was beginning to figure it out.

WHAT'S TO COME: The Falcons are hoping the answer is a boatload of sacks and pressures, and the early returns are quite encouraging that both could come true. In the present, Ebiketie will likely remain as a rotational piece behind Ogundeji and Lorenzo Carter, but as Atlanta seeks to end a stretch of four losses in its last five games, the rookie's presence off the end on passing downs could prove crucial.

ONE LAST LINE: "AK, we had him as our player of the game," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said following the Bears game. "He's gotten better, got a sack - should've had another. But he's playing really well, some of the subtle stuff he's doing when you coordinate certain games that he's doing that I appreciate about him."

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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