Here is a detailed breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2016 second-round pick: LSU linebacker Deion Jones.
BIO & VITALS
Height: 6’0 ⅞”
Arm Length: 32 ⅜”
Hand Size: 9 ¼”
40 Time: 4.39 (pro day), 4.59 (Combine)
Three Cone: 7.13 (pro day)
Bench Press: 18 reps (pro day)
Vertical Jump: 35.5″ (pro day), 33″ (Combine)
Broad Jump: 120″ (Combine)
Named after former Atlanta Falcons and Hall-of-Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, Jones was born on November 4, 1994 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was nicknamed “Debo” growing up, which came about as a combination of Deion and Bo Jackson, his father’s two favorite athletes.
He was a three-star recruit out of Jesuit High in New Orleans before enrolling at LSU in nearby Baton Rouge. Played in all 13 games as a true freshman, predominantly on special teams but with limited action on defense as a reserve weak-side linebacker. He finished the year with 23 tackles, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. 15 of his tackles came on special teams, working both on the kickoff and punt coverage teams.
Continued to perform on special teams as a sophomore, appearing in all 13 games. He finished the year 15 tackles, with seven of them coming on special teams. He also added a tackle for loss that season. Was once again a reserve as a junior, but earned more reps on defense. Finished the year with 27 tackles, with only six coming on special teams. Added 3.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup and a fumble recovery on the year. Earned a single start as a junior, replacing an injured Kwon Alexander at weak-side linebacker early in the season against Louisiana-Monroe.
Upon Alexander’s departure for the NFL in 2015, Jones assumed his vacant starting spot on the weak side. He finished his senior year with 11 starts in 12 total appearances. He missed only one start due to being ejected for targeting late the week before and was forced to sit out the first half of the Syracuse game. He led LSU’s defense with 100 tackles (including four on special teams) and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also finished second on the team with a pair of interceptions and tied for third with five sacks. He also added three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Participated in the 2016 Senior Bowl, where he measured only 219 pounds. He gained only three pounds over the next month before the Scouting Combine in February. At his pro day, he weighed in at 222. Although there are recent reports that he’s since bulked up to 230 pounds.
2015 GAMES WATCHED
Note: scroll right to see more stats.
Key: MT – Missed Tackles; KBd – Key Blocked; YAC – Yards After Catch; UC – Uncatchable Pass
|Sep 26||at Syracuse (2nd half)||2.0||0.0||0||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||5||2||16||6||0||2||1||late hit|
|Oct 03||Eastern Michigan||1.0||0.0||1||1||0||0||1||0||1||0||3||2||9||3||0||0||0||N/A|
|Oct 24||Western Kentucky||2.5||0.0||2||1||0||1||0||1||0||0||3||1||-1||3||0||1||0||N/A|
|Nov 07||at Alabama||2.5||0.0||3||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||2||26||5||0||0||1||offsides|
|Nov 21||at Mississippi||4.5||1.0||3||1||0||0||0||1||0||0||2||2||17||7||0||0||0||N/A|
|Nov 28||Texas A&M||4.5||1.0||1||2||0||0||2||2||0||1||2||1||6||1||0||0||0||N/A|
|Dec 29||vs. Texas Tech||1.0||2.0||2||1||1||1||4||0||0||0||3||2||31||16||0||0||0||N/A|
SKILLS: How Good Is He?
Skills are graded on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Speed (8.0): Has elite timed speed and you’ll see flashes of him playing at that speed. Shows excellent closing burst on the ball when playing downhill on the edge to defend the flat. Has the speed and range to play in space and is comfortable moving in the open field. Does a nice job closing on the ball when he can keep things in front of him and has the space and room to utilize his speed.
Strength (4.0): Undersized, playing around 220 pounds throughout his LSU career. While he possesses above-average physicality for a player his size, he will struggle to overwhelm NFL-sized blockers and ballcarriers with his power and strength. Should be able to add bulk in the weight room to support 230 to 240 pounds on his frame, but will likely always be a player that is labeled undersized.
Tackling (3.0): An underwhelming tackler as his lack of size and strength shows up in this area. Has a tendency to miss way too many tackles, whether working in the open field or traffic. While he does a good job wrapping up for the most part, his lack of strength means that he has a tendency to roll off tackles, as he lacks the force to bring many to the ground. Tends to be the type that will wrap up a ballcarrier and wait for the cavalry to arrive to completely bring an opponent down to the turf. Doesn’t always see what he hits, ducking his head at times to absorb contact. Will lower his shoulder to deliver a hit, but lacks the pop and power to really punish ballcarriers and put them on the ground.
Watch Jones struggle to wrap up and get trucked by a quarterback:
Coverage (6.0): Effective in coverage, showing awareness in zone. Plays a lot of matchup zone at LSU, and showed steady improvement in that area over the course of his senior season. Does a nice job playing in space and can keep things in front of him. Has the athleticism and speed to run with tight ends and running backs, although he’ll struggle when matched up against the truly explosive running backs or slot receivers. Has decent hips for change of direction, but just needs to improve his footwork and technique in man coverage as he didn’t have a ton of experience there.
Watch a good play from Jones in coverage where he shows ball skills to break up a throw:
Here’s another clip from him at the Senior Bowl that shows a good combination of speed and coverage potential:
Um, linebackers aren't supposed to be able to do that. Tremendous recovery and closing speed here by Deion Jones. pic.twitter.com/V7cNexUfuY
— Ethan Young (@NFLDrafter) January 31, 2016
Point of Attack (3.5): Underwhelming at the point of attack and has a tendency to struggle when he’s forced to play in traffic. Doesn’t do a good job shedding blocks due to his lack of size, although occasionally, you’ll see him beat a center or guard on a reach block. But against NFL-caliber blockers, he’ll likely struggle and consistently get engulfed at the point of attack. Does his best work when he can attack/shoot a gap rather than having to sit and maintain gap responsibility.
Here is an example of Jones’ issues at the point of attack:
Here is an example of a good play Jones makes at the point of attack:
Instincts (5.0): Mostly average. Will show good play recognition at times, but for the most part he’s a “see ball, get ball” sort of player. And one problem is that he doesn’t always do a great job seeing the ball. Here’s an example:
Some of his quick recognition skills is due to LSU’s defensive scheme, which will often have him attack a gap off the snap and then diagnose the play while on the move. With more experience, there is at least a decent possibility that his instincts improve.
Pass Rush (3.5): Effective mostly due to his speed, with most of his pressures and sacks coming when the quarterback gets outside the pocket and he has the ability to attack freely without coverage responsibilities. Doesn’t possess any real moves and when he tries to overpower running backs, he has a tendency to get knocked back, which doesn’t bode well for his ability to match up with more polished NFL-caliber backs.
Click here for more information about my grading system.
Developmental Starter (4.6) – A player right on the cusp of being a starter but may be lacking in at least one key area that limits his potential. If he does become a starter, almost never will become more than a complementary player as opposed to an impact player since he will struggle to compete against quality players at the next level. A solid mid-round pick that should be targeted early on Day 3. Towards the upper end of this tier could sneak into the Top 100 picks.
NFL FORECAST: How Do His Skills Project to the NFL?
Jones brings a lot of speed to the table, but beyond that there isn’t much else to be impressed about his game.
The problem Jones is going to face at the next level is his lack of size. That’s a problem that is unlikely to go away, even if he manages to bulk up to north of 230 pounds. Adding bulk should help him as a tackler, but his propensity to miss tackles is likely going to be something that always follows him in the pros.
Watching Jones at LSU, you get the feeling that while he was highly productive, he was more of a complementary player for what was considered one of LSU’s lesser defenses in recent years. He made plays, but he wasn’t a player that really popped as a future NFL stud like what is often the case when you check out LSU’s defense. And it’s difficult to imagine a player that was a complementary player in college being anything more than that in the pros.
He’s going to need to be surrounded by “plus” talent that is going to hide some of his major deficiencies when it comes to tackling and playing at the point of attack. He is ideally suited to be a weak-side linebacker playing beside an upper-echelon middle linebacker. The better the linebacker play beside him, the less weight Jones will be forced to pull and thus more fitting with his skill as a complementary player.
A comparison would be Stephen Nicholas when he was playing beside a healthy and impactful Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon was the impact player, while Nicholas was the complementary starter that could fill in the cracks somewhat.
Like Nicholas, Jones is likely to be considered a capable and valuable starter in time, but at the same time be considered somewhat inconsequential at least in the bigger picture of building a top-shelf defense. Nicholas was mostly a functional starter in his third and fourth years, but it wasn’t until his fifth and sixth years where his value was truly felt.
Also helping Nicholas was the fact that early in his career, he was able to carve out a role on special teams, which carried over throughout his tenure in Atlanta and kept him worthy of earning a roster spot. Jones shouldn’t have much problem doing the same as his speed makes him valuable in that arena covering punts and kicks, and his lack of size is far less of an obstacle than it would be on regular defense.
Even if Jones never develops as a capable starter, he should have little issue sticking in the NFL for several years because of his ability to produce on special teams. Fortunately for him, that special-teams ability should give him the necessary time he needs to develop so that he is able to increase the likelihood that he does eventually become a starter down the road.
It will be interesting to see if Jones eventually overcomes that lack of size and become a successful starter in the NFL. There have been plenty of undersized linebackers that have made the successful transition to the NFL, but it is often the tendency of such players to take multiple seasons before they hit their stride. A player that immediately comes to mind is Wesley Woodyard, who was a 227-pound linebacker out of Kentucky in 2008.
Woodyard spent his first three years in Denver as a capable reserve and special-teams player, making the most of his limited starting opportunities early on when other starters were injured. It wasn’t until his fifth season in 2012 that Woodyard emerged as a full-fledged starting middle linebacker, thanks largely to his excellence in coverage. In the years since, Woodyard has been a very capable starter and has had a very successful career considering that he was originally an undrafted free agent.
Jones might have a similar career path as he possesses the tools to get better and become a capable starter down the road, but he’ll probably need plenty of seasoning before that happens.
Again, Nicholas was also a player that was much more valuable as a starter on his second contract with the Falcons than he was on his first. The same coudl be said of Woodyard, and I suspect that Jones might be the same.
Throw in the possibility that his best football might be ahead of him because he didn’t earn a ton of playing time in college. While that may be true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that his best football is immediately ahead of him. Meaning that a team that drafts Jones probably needs to think of having a three-year plan for him.
In the first year, you designate his role being mostly that as being a reserve and special-teams player. That will also be a year where you monitor him in the weight room to see if he’s can effectively add the necessary mass he needs to. In his second year, he might have the opportunity to compete for a starting role, but it’s far from a guarantee. By the third year, he should definitely be in a position to be a starter.
To be fair, that’s the typical sort of career path that many mid-round draft picks typically have. The normal expectations on a second-round pick is that they are definitely going to be starting by their second season. Whether JOnes is given that opportunity or earns it remains to be seen, but I certainly don’t have high expectations that should he be starting by 2017 that his play will be anything beyond that of a low-level starter.
I believe it will be in his third or fourth year (which ideally will be his second or third year as a starter) that he starts to solidify himself into the player that he should remain for the remainder of his career. And whether it’s the Falcons or another team that signs him thereafter is likely to get more out of him than what the Falcons initially got out of him early on.
FALCONS FORECAST: How Does He Project in Atlanta?
The concerns about the early returns of Jones in Atlanta are somewhat magnified by the realization that the team plans to play him at middle linebacker instead of his more natural weak-side position. At the former position, he’s expected to compete with the likes of incumbent Paul Worrilow.
His transition won’t be a huge change since the middle and weak-side positions in Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme are somewhat interchangeable. The main difference is in regards with gap responsibility, not necessarily in terms of overall skill set.
But it does raise concerns since the middle linebacker is much likelier to have to deal with more reach blocks from offensive linemen, indicating that he’ll have to find a way to navigate through traffic quite a bit.
This is one of the biggest weaknesses of Jones’ game, which is why he’s no slam dunk to make a successful transition to the position. However one thing that Jones might have going for him is that his former LSU teammate, Kwon Alexander, made a relatively successful transition to middle linebacker as a rookie last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Alexander proved to be an adept playmaker, particularly when facing the Falcons last season. In two games against the Falcons, Alexander recorded a combined 21 tackles, one sack, one interception, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles.
Overall, one could consider Alexander to be an effective first-year starter considering that he was a fourth-round pick that was expected to be a reserve going into the season. However Alexander did have his fair share of struggles with missed tackles and disengaging from blockers while working in traffic.
One can presume that Alexander’s struggles would have been even larger had he not been playing beside Lavonte David, arguably the league’s premier weak-side linebacker. Having a physical, instinctual playmaker like David playing beside him to pick up much of the slack likely eased Alexander’s transition into the NFL.
Should Jones get the opportunity to play early on, I don’t see him being an overly impactful starter. He’ll be a player that has his ups, but probably a lot more downs.
While he has the potential with several years development to eventually turn into a more effective starter with fewer inconsistencies, I don’t see him being that much of an upgrade over either Justin Durant or Worrilow, regardless of where he sticks at linebacker.
Jones is likely to suffer from the same problems that those players had in 2015, which is too often being unable to make the play. The one trait that Jones possesses over either player is his speed. That is valuable but if Jones isn’t a reliable open-field tackler, then the fact that he flies all over the field is mostly negated. This play from last year summarizes such:
That’s why Jones needs to play beside a better player like Alexander did with David. If he’s going to play weak-side linebacker, Jones needs to play beside a “blue-chip” middle linebacker that is able to effectively cover and defend the middle of the defense.
That is because I don’t believe Jones has that ability within him. Or at least I don’t believe that ability is going to emerge from within him in the very near future, thus precluding the Falcons from adding such a player down the road.
There just seems to be a ceiling on Jones’ potential at the next level. He can be an effective complementary starter if he’s lining up beside a Pro Bowler. Then his deficiencies won’t be as glaring because the other, better player will make plenty of plays that Jones doesn’t appear capable of making.
Jones will make some standout plays because his speed will allow him to close on ballcarriers and receivers at lightning-speed, allowing for the potential for pass breakups, interceptions, forced fumbles and the occasional big hit.
But there are also going to be a ton of plays that Jones doesn’t make because he’s struggling to disengage from blockers, find his way through traffic and maintain his gap responsibility against the run. He’ll also be in a position to make some plays, but simply won’t because he’s not going to be a reliable tackler.
Thus why it’s important that the Falcons find another every-down linebacker that won’t have those issues and troubles.
However one problem that Jones may face stems from the fact that he was drafted at a point that suggests he should be that player. Another problem is that if the transition to middle linebacker doesn’t pay immediate dividends in 2016, the Falcons might be looking in another direction come 2017 at the position.
The team is set to see most of their linebacker corps hit free agency next offseason, allowing the team potentially to hit the “reset” button at the position even with players like Jones and fourth-round pick De’Vondre Campbell being counted on to fill starting roles. Jones in particular needs to play at a high enough level as a rookie to prevent the team from seeking further upgrades at middle linebacker next year.
My suspicion is that it’s likely that the Falcons will seek to move Jones from middle linebacker to outside linebacker, particularly if he struggles with the physicality of the position as much as I suspect early on. Then Jones could be in a position where he’s competing with the likes of Campbell for a potentially vacant weak-side linebacker spot.
Jones’ draft status should afford him a leg up in any competition, but it’s difficult for me to say with conviction that Jones truly has the advantage in an open competition with Campbell whilst staring into my imagined crystal ball today.
Should circumstances allow that Campbell wins the position, one could imagine a scenario that sees Jones spend the bulk of his rookie contract with the Falcons acting as a reserve and special-teams player. Jones should be valuable in that role given the possibility of being cross-trained at two linebacker spots as well as his potential to be an impactful special-teams defender like he was throughout college.
However given his second-round draft status, Jones being only a reserve would be seen as a disappointment. Thus why I’m reminded somewhat of past Falcons second-day “failures” in linebacker Akeem Dent and safety Dezmen Southward a bit when trying to project Jones’ future.
While I think Jones is a much better football player than either Dent or Southward were entering the league, he presents many similar red flags. And despite certainly being too early to definitively call it one way or the other, one cannot deny that the first year of last year’s second-round pick out of LSU in cornerback Jalen Collins hasn’t gone swimmingly.
Four or five years from now we could be looking at Jones as one of the bigger draft disappointments of the early Dan Quinn regime. At least from my perspective, that seems just as likely a possibility as the one that has Jones becoming a Woodyard-esque starter.
The likeliest outcome is probably somewhere in between. Jones probably won’t be as bad as Dent nor as good as Woodyard. Instead, he’ll be a lower or mid-level starter that is seen as a component of a defense, but not a critical factor. I don’t see his long-term future being in the middle if for no other reason than I think the Falcons are going to need a much better player than what I project Jones to be if they want to get to that next level as a defensive unit.
Could Jones be a part of that unit? Yes. But will he be a critical part of it? No, probably not. I expect him to be a relatively small cog in that machine. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s a bit underwhelming for a second-round pick.