Deion Jones has had an impressive rookie season, but I’ve been reluctant to believe he might win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award because A) this defense has been, on balance, no bueno and B) it seemed likely Jones would be overshadowed by other promising rookies like Joey Bosa and the Falcons’ own Keanu Neal.
He’s had his ups and downs, like any rookie, but there have been genuinely impressive flashes from Jones, and he’s looked like one of the fastest, most dynamic defenders on the field for the Falcons more or less since he stepped onto said field. The recognition is starting to catch up for Jones, who has 81 tackles in 12 games (10 starts), with three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. He is 22 years old.
That’s why Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar made a strong case for him to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, a case you should absolutely read. Farrar argues that Jones is a perfect fit for the defense, that the team was content to play him in a role that would emphasize his strengths, and that Jones has gotten better at everything in a hurry. You won’t find much to quibble with.
Other NFL1000 note: Deion Jones was our No. 1 inside linebacker for the second time in past three weeks.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) December 15, 2016
With the recognition catching up to his level of play, and with that level of play improving toward the end of the season, I really am coming around to the idea that Jones could win this award. His competition is fairly limited, with Joey Bosa, Chris Jones, and Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey standing out from the rest of the field, and Keanu Neal certainly in the mix. What Jones has working in his favor, if we’re being cynical for a moment, is that his biggest plays have been so flashy, and thus likely to stand out in the minds of voters. Even when he’s occasionally washed out of a play or just in the wrong place at the wrong time—which hey, he’s a rookie—Jones has the closing speed to get back into it, and it’s fair to say none of us have been this excited about a rookie linebacker in a long time.
Why might he not win? There are, as we mentioned, a handful of genuinely impressive candidates elsewhere in the NFL, and the Falcons are known for having a mediocre defense, which certainly dents his case. If he can keep up his current level of play, though, I think there’s a strong chance he walks away with the award. Let’s see if he can feast on the hapless 49ers this week and further bolster his case.