Foye Oluokun calls initial Pro Bowl ballot snub ‘disrespectful’

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun woke up from a nap Tuesday to see that voting for the Pro Bowl had just begun.

There was only one issue. Oluokun wasn’t a choice on the ballot.

With the Falcons starting 0-5 and sitting at 3-6 so far this season, perhaps those who put together the initial Pro Bowl ballot weren’t paying close attention. Oluokun certainly has stated his case for being one of the best defenders on the Falcons’ roster this season. He leads the team with 64 tackles, has recorded one interception and forced three fumbles in 17 snaps by himself against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. Although his tackle total is tied for 28th in the NFL, it’s worth noting he injured himself early against the Cowboys and missed the following week’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Oluokun said he’s not someone who generally cares about receiving any extra recognition. But being left off the initial Pro Bowl ballot rubbed him the wrong way to at least a minor degree.

“I’ve never been one for publicity and stuff,” Oluokun said. “I just want to do my job and be the best football player. I kind of woke up from a nap and got all that news that I wasn’t on the ballot and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy.’ I thought about it and that was really weird they wouldn’t put me on it. That was disrespectful, low-key.”

However, Oluokun was added to the ballot later in the day, with the league citing an IT issue as to why he wasn’t initially included.

“Then I got put on it and I was like, ‘All right, now it’s up to the fans and whoever votes on it,’” Oluokun said. “But I’m just here to play football, try to make some plays and win games, really. That’s all I’m focused on.”

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris downplayed the perceived slight from the NFL, noting that two former cornerbacks he coached in Tampa Bay, Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, were snubbed from the Pro Bowl following the 2003 season when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl.

Morris, however, did say that Oluokun’s contributions aren’t going unnoticed by the coaching staff.

“Foye’s been playing at a Pro Bowl caliber for his team,” Morris said. “I think his teammates recognize that more than anything else. ... Having the ability to throw him up on (the video screen in) some of our team meetings and shine a light on some of the stuff he’s done really well for us, that has been the most important and influential thing for us.”

Oluokun made plenty of plays during the Falcons’ most recent win over the Denver Broncos two weeks ago. He led the Falcons with 10 tackles and posted his first sack of the season. He also accounted for four quarterback hits.

More important, Oluokun has become more of a vocal leader on defense now that he’s in a starting role. Oluokun said his confidence has grown throughout the season, which is why he’s been able to produce in this manner.

“I’m just being more assertive, more aggressive,” Oluokun said. “I’m playing with more energy. That’s really it. Just being comfortable on the football field with all the boys and being comfortable with every call. That’s really the big change from last year to this year.”

When he was a rookie, Oluokun said the first snaps he took for the Falcons weren’t what he envisioned for himself after the team took him in the sixth round of the 2018 draft. Since, he’s devoted a lot of time to become a well-rounded player his teammates can depend on.

“Every time I got on the field, it was what can I get better at, what can I do better?” he said. “Now that I feel I’m doing closer to where I want to be, I’m definitely playing a lot more comfortable, a lot faster out there.”

Although Oluokun said he still has plenty of areas to improve, he believes his style of play and approach at practice is rubbing off on his teammates in a positive way.

Whether he makes the Pro Bowl this season, that’s an important development for the Falcons.

“I think most of it is the guys trusting in me, seeing my work ethic in the first two years and then seeing the energy I play with on Sundays,” Oluokun said. “When they see that translate to the game, they trust what I’m saying out there. That goes for anybody who’s bringing that same energy. When I try to talk to people, I like to find the way they like to be talked to. I can reach them in the right way and use that to get the message out.”