Through three quarters of a tense Chiefs-Rams showdown on Monday night, only one player had found his way into the end zone multiple times in a high-scoring game. It wasn’t Todd Gurley. It wasn’t Tyreek Hill. It wasn’t Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, or Brandin Cooks.
It was Samsom Ebukam, second-year outside linebacker for the Rams. In a 54-51 Rams win, Ebukam accounted for 12 points, only one other player on his team, tight end Gerald Everett, finished with two scores in that game.
Ebukam’s reign of terror began late in the second quarter when he cleaned up Aaron Donald’s strip-sack for an 11-yard score that gave Los Angeles a 23-17 lead.
One quarter later, he picked off Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, then rode him into the end zone to put the Rams up 40-30.
Ebukam’s production had Aaron Donald talking him up.
“Two touchdowns, I ain’t got one in five years!” Donald said. “He got two in one game, but that’s what it’s about when you have playmakers and when you got a team like this, that at any time can make the big plays.”
So who is this guy?
Ebukam isn’t the first guy you’d think of when someone brings up the Rams’ defense. That’d be Donald, the 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Thanks to the presence of players like Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Michael Brockers, Dante Fowler, and Mark Barron, he might not even crack your top five.
But Los Angeles has been high on him since 2017. That’s when they scooped him up as a fourth-round pick out of Eastern Washington — the same program that gave the Rams wideout Cooper Kupp one round earlier. He was an FCS All-American who recorded 24 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in four seasons with the Eagles, but he only had a single touchdown in a storied NCAA career. Before playing for EWU, he was born in Nigeria and was an All-State javelin thrower and shot putter at Oregon’s David Douglas High School.
Speaking of high school, that was the last time he scored as many touchdowns in a game as he did Monday night:
Samson served a depth role with the Rams as a rookie, playing in all 16 games but only starting two. With two sacks and five quarterback hits despite the steep learning curve of an FCS to FBS jump, he proved his future was bright.
A few pundits took notice. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly called him LA’s X factor for 2018, placing him alongside explosive talents like J.J. Watt, Josh Gordon, and Derwin James:
With the departures of Quinn and outside linebacker Connor Barwin, L.A.’s going to need someone to step up. Ebukam is the proverbial next man up; The 6-foot-3, 245-pound pass rusher grabbed two sacks and a forced fumble in a rotational role as a rookie last year and is now poised to grab a starting job. The former Eastern Washington standout boasts intriguing athleticism—he ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and jumped 39 inches in the vert at his pro day last year—and, playing alongside Suh and Donald, should benefit from plenty of one-on-one rush opportunities.
We weren’t as bullish on Ebukam, but also recognized him as a possible reason why the Rams were eager to trade away Robert Quinn last offseason.
What had he done in 2018 before exploding the Chiefs?
The second-year player came into the season with high hopes, and his teammates agreed. Jared Goff told reporters spoke glowingly of him back in August, though he failed to point out his nose for the end zone.
Yeah, he’s good, he’s good. I think he’s going to have a really good year and it’s going to be exciting to watch coming from his rookie year where he didn’t play probably as much as he’d like to and had some flashes. This year I think he’s going to get a lot of snaps and have a good chance to tally up some sacks. It’s going be fun to watch, he’s an exciting player.
Ebukam won his position battle in Los Angeles and has been the team’s starting outside linebacker all season, adding some pressure from the outside to complement a brutal inside push from Donald and Suh. In 10 games before Monday he’d racked up two sacks, five tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.
Which is all very good, but it’s not quite “scored two touchdowns in two quarters as a linebacker against the AFC’s top offense” good. On Monday, he did something only one other player in the league has done in the past decade.
Samson Ebukam has an INT return TD and a fumble recovery TD tonight against the Chiefs— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) November 20, 2018
Ebukam joins Bears safety Eddie Jackson (Week 7, 2017) as the only players with both an INT return TD and a fumble recovery TD in the same game in the last 10 seasons#Rams #KCvLAR @RamsNFL
And he even added a sack in the fourth quarter. And then he created the pressure that forced another Mahomes interception with less than two minutes to play to help preserve the Rams’ 54-51 win. All in all, a pretty good night.