There are prospects every single year that seem to escape even the most well versed draft analysts out there. I’ll be honest, I had no clue who this player was until the NFLPA collegiate bowl. While watching that game, I kept noticing number 91 getting a lot of pressure, almost every snap, and eventually I learned who he was.
Samson Ebukam seems to be that guy this year that not many know about, and I am here to introduce the public to this unknown edge defender from Eastern Washington.
Without further ado, let’s dive in into this.
Samson Ebukam, Edge defender, Eastern Washington
Combine/pro day results and measurables (*Note these will be updated when available.)
Height: 6-1, 3/10
Weight: 248 LBs
Arm Length: 32, 3/8
Hand Size: 9, 5/8
40 yard dash: N/A
Vertical jump: N/A
Broad jump: N/A
20 yard shuttle: N/A
3-cone drill: N/A
Tackles for loss: 14.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Samson Ebukam has quite an interesting background. Ebukam was born outside of the United States in Nigeria. He also has a very interesting story that ranges from being bullied, to soccer, throwing Javelin and how Eastern Washington felt they got a steal, according to this great article from their spokesman.
Perhaps Ebukam thrives in space because he had so little as a child. One of seven children, he grew up in Nigeria, which is slightly larger than Texas but holds 188 million people.
It holds them uncomfortably. Ebukam, who lived there until age nine, recalls the overcrowded markets in his home town. The schools were even worse, though he didn’t know it yet.
But his father knew. Tobias Ebukam, a businessman, had seen enough of the United States to seek a better life for his family – whatever the cost. Settling in Portland, he scrimped and brought the rest of his family across the Atlantic child by child, a heart-wrenching project that lasted eight years.
When Samson was six, his three older siblings departed for America. Three years later, Samson and the younger children made their way west – without their mother, Stella, because there wasn’t enough money.
Even while Stella lived half a world away, “She was the glue that was holding it all together,” said Ebukam, who leaned on his mother via cell phone during the tough times in Oregon.
There were many. Smart enough to be bumped up a grade in Nigeria, he was pushed back down in America because he didn’t speak English. His first four months in Portland were spent in front of a television.
“I was watching movies, trying to repeat what they said,” said Ebukam, whose favorite flick was “Friday After Next.” He bought or borrowed any CD he could find, trying to catch up.
Meanwhile, the schoolyard bullying followed him from Nigeria. Scrawny when he left his homeland, he appeared even more vulnerable to American kids. “I was in a lot of fights,” Ebukam recalled.
The bullying stopped in the eighth grade, thanks to a growth spurt that also opened up the world of sports. Until then, “football” was the game they played back in Nigeria, 11-a-side kicking a ball.
Ebukam played soccer with more abandon than grace, racking up so many red cards that he was invited to try American football.
By the end of his career, he’d played most positions on offense and special teams: running back, fullback, tight end and returned punts and kickoffs. On defense he was a natural at end “because I could play free and not worry about the rules and be more physical,” he said.
At David Douglas High, he was a state runner-up in the shot put and javelin, but flew under the football recruiting radar. Eastern coaches spotted him at a summer camp, offering him a scholarship.
“We felt like we maybe got a little bit of a steal in recruiting, “because he was one of those guys who could have gone to a higher level,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said.
Ebukam’s only other offer came from Portland State.
“But when I came here for a visit, I said there’s no way I’m going to PSU,” Ebukam said with a smile.
According to that same article from the spokesman, Ebukam has a tremendous work ethic.
“He came in here with a lot of tools,” Baldwin said. “But he takes every offseason and every summer and works to keep getting better mentally and physically.”
“He’s become that difference-maker because of the extra things he does,” Baldwin said.
No doubt because of his work ethic, Ebukam was a 2016 first team All American as voted by coaches in the FCS. He was also a member of the Big Sky All academic team every year, pretty impressive for somebody who couldn’t even speak English when he came to America. He also finished 6th all time among Eastern Washington's sack leaders with 24.
Ebukam is tremendous talent on the field, who this season played somewhat of hybrid role between LB and DE (essentially a 3-4 OLB). Ebukam, for his listed size, looks quite built for being only 248 LBs.
What immediately sticks out about him is his tremendous ability to dip and bend nice and tight around the edge, while also being able to flatten to the QB. Of course his get off of the snap is pretty explosive too. What really helps him though is the natural leverage he has because of how low to the ground he’s built, often offensive tackles can’t get their hands on him without holding him. Ebukam has also shown flashes of good technical hand usage but what really stuck out was his motor.
A lot of times his motor is running hot a lot of the game. He’ll chase down plays he has no business making and he’ll finish plays. He shows signs of developing a pretty good spin move as well.
When it comes to how he works in space, Ebukam can make tackles in space and has shown the ability to effectively drop back into coverage. He also shows flashes of being able to set the edge against the run.
However, Ebukam is a bit undersized and can get engulfed sometimes against the run, particularly due to his undisciplined mentality against the run. Often times I see him shoot inside and lose outside contain, allowing some decent sized runs to come through on his side. His get off is also a bit inconsistent which is very reminiscent of Yannick Ngakoue from last year’s draft. He also struggles to really generate power, often looking a bit more like a finesse/speed rusher. He also plays in FCS which he’ll no doubt get knocked for his lack of competition.
So let’s take a closer look at Ebukam.
Positives: Explosion, Dip and Bend
These are three key elements that help define Ebukam and his style of pass rush. His explosion off the line can be inconsistent but when he gets a really explosive get off, it’s a sight to behold.
This is a really nice get off at the line but what is really impressive is the bend and flexibility he shows as he dips and flattens to the QB. This really is a flat out speed rush and we’ll look at it frame by frame by his first, third and fifth step.
Now look where he is by his third step. The offensive tackle has his butt facing away from the QB and then by the fifth step he clears past the shoulder. The reason he’s able to get the sack though is because he shows the flexibility to be able to keep his balance as he dips, bends, tightly turns the corner and flattens to the QB.
Textbook example of why a good burst and ability to bend are such wanted traits in an edge defender.
His ability to bend is really a great asset and by far one of his biggest signatures as a pass rusher. It often resulted in many offensive tackles having to blatantly hold him so he didn’t kill the QB.
These are the kind of plays that the boxscore doesn’t tell you about. The offensive tackle from my novice mind looks to be in a good position but the problem is that Ebukam does a nice job of putting his shoulder into the tackle and showcasing a nice rip move that may have led to a sack if he was not held on the play.
A big reason why he was able to pull this off was no just his bend but it was his natural leverage due to his height. The offensive tackle couldn’t really get his hands on him and when he did it was outside the shoulder pads and Ebukam had already won the edge.
Positives: Relentless pursuit
I talk a lot about the intricacies of pass rush and the ability to bend around the edge but motor is something you should never overlook in a front seven player. Ebukam in particular is absolutely relentless with his pursuit. When he sees a chance to make a play, he goes right after it.
This play isn’t even to his side of the field but he sees the ball carrier and even though there are defenders on that side, he doesn’t wait for someone else to make a play, he makes the play.
This is important because it measures a prospects on field character at the least and how much desire he has to make a play.
Positives: Developing hand usage and counter moves
Ebukam doesn’t always uses his hands as a pass rusher but the light is starting to come for him more when it comes to using his hands. When he does use them, he can become an even deadlier pass rusher.
This is excellent hand usage, the tackle gets his hands on him but Ebukam does a great job of getting a good punch on the tackle’s right hand and eventually getting inside, creating pressure on the QB. Again this doesn’t really show up on the stat sheet and as he continues to get better with his hands, he will become more disruptive.
Here’s another example of good hand usage vs Washington State.
His initial rush got stalled and the tackle had good positioning to stop him from getting the edge. Ebukam though does an excellent job of trying to execute the one arm stab to prevent the tackle from getting his hands on him. Though it fails, he does an even better job using his outside hand to throw the tackles outside hand off of him, leading to him winning the edge.
Here’s a frame by frame look of the play.
One Arm Stab fails
Engages with the tackles outside hand
Throws it down, wins the edge
As Ebukam continues to develop, so will his growing repertoire of pass rushing moves. Have good hand usage is one thing, knowing when and where to use a counter is another.
The design on this play is clearly to have all the defensive linemen to flow to the right side of the field (or left depending on where you are viewing it from). What this does is help free up the blitzing DB #10 and as Ebukam gets doubled, the TE leaves the outside open due to his positioning.
Ebukam sees this and he throws a nice tight outside spin move as a counter to his inside rush being absorbed and the TE leaving the outside open.
Now the problem with a play like this is that it opens up a lane for the QB to run through and you could say it was a bit of an undisciplined play by Ebukam.
Positives: Coverage ability and playing in space
Ebukam as I said before, played in a bit of hybrid role similar to a 3-4 OLB and as a result, he dropped into coverage quite a bit and he showed the ability to make plays in space.
Ebukam recognizes the screen play, avoids the blocking the offensive linemen and heads straight for the running back, tackling him for a loss of yards on 3rd and 10.
Ebukam at points got thrown a lot of cut blocks his way during the season but his ability to avoid those blocks in space showed up.
Ebukam doesn’t lose his balance, keeps his eyes on the QB and is able to deflect the pass. This is a player who can play in space and stays aware of the situation around him, he’s an excellent 3-4 OLB candidate in the NFL because of this.
Negatives: Lack of discipline against the run
I’lll go ahead and get this one out the way, Ebukam isn’t bad against the run because he doesn’t have the size to set the edge. No, that is in fact a lie.
He shows the ability to do this a lot throughout a game and yes it will be a big jump to the pros in terms of competition, problem is that his discipline can kill him against the run.
A lot of playing the run is discipline and doing your job. Don’t be caught out of position, don’t get overaggressive and stop abandoning your gap.
What does Ebukam do on this play? He gets completely washed out of the play because he funneled inside, abandoning his gap which led to a TD.
Plays like this were consistent throughout his film and while he showed the ability to be more disciplined, I saw way more undisciplined run integrity than disciplined.
Negatives: Fails to generate power/push
I noticed this a lot throughout his film and while there aren’t very many specific examples of where he uses a flat out power rush, you can notice that he doesn’t generate much of a push when it comes to his pass rush.
Not very much push at all and even though he’s got a TE helping, I don’t think that had much to do with it. Ebukam struggles to really generate power with his rushes and while I’d like to say that could improve in the NFL, it’s no guarantee.
That’s not where he’ll make his money rushing the passer though. Where he’s going to succeed is by winning with speed, hands and bend.
Samson Ebukam is an underrated pass rusher in this draft. Not many know who he is and it has a lot to do with where he played. He played in the FCS at Eastern Washington and while he clearly has scouts and coaches attention considering he got invited to the NFLPA collegiate bowl, the public draft community has very little clue who he is.
A lot of his strengths are things you can’t teach like his ability to bend and get a good burst off the line. His hand usage and counter moves are improving and while he may never be a pass rusher who generates very much power, he has other methods of getting to the QB. His discipline against the run is infuriating but can be fixed.
To sum up, he’s a damn good football player who I believe could come in immediately as a pass rush specialist on certain downs, with the capability of developing into a 3 down player in the future. What round he goes in is still a mystery but wherever he goes, the team that picks him is getting someone who’s going to work their butt off and help their pass rush.