Stop me if you've heard this before: The Falcons need linebackers.
Wow. Amazing. Profound.
By sliding Vic Beasley over to strongside linebacker and signing Courtney Upshaw, Atlanta can focus their energies at middle and weakside linebacker in the draft. Deion Jones from LSU could be a Day Two solution at weakside linebacker in the coming NFL Draft.
Deion Jones is the prototypical weakside linebacker. A bit undersized, but speedy and able the work in the open field. Here's a peek at his testing from the combine courtesy of Mockdraftable.com.
Deion Jones is very fast; that's easily his biggest selling point as he moves to the NFL. Atlanta doesn't have anybody on the current roster with the speed that Jones brings to the field. The following play versus Arkansas may seem like a routine, low difficulty play, but these are plays the Falcons missed in 2015. (Remember Blaine Gabbert and Shaun Draughn running wild?)
Another area where Jones excels is navigating backside flow and finding his way to the ballcarrier through traffic. On the following play versus Arkansas, Jones starts on the non-playside B-gap and works his way across the field meeting Alex Collins as he cuts back up the field.
Even though Jones is strictly a weakside linebacker, he's shown a bit of ability to function in short area situations where he needs to get downhill in a hurry. Jones is never going to be the "thumper" linebacker that annihilates offensive linemen on his way to the ballcarrier, but he's fast enough to dart through holes in an instant.
One area where Deion Jones is ready to go is pass coverage, which is welcome. He's going to be compared to Darron Lee in this facet of the game because they're both projected to fill in the hole at weakside linebacker in the defense, but Jones is further along than Lee in this aspect. Younger linebackers usually have the propensity to be "chasers" versus "reactors" in coverage, especially zone coverage.
A "chaser" is a player that automatically picks up any player running through his zone without much regard for possible route combinations in his vicinity. "Reactors" work within the confines and structure of the defense showing trust that their teammates will pick up receivers leaving specific zones.
This is subtle, and doesn't have a huge effect on the play, but watch Deion Jones read and follow the first crossing pattern across the field. When that route leaves his zone he smoothly picks up the new crosser passing in front of his face.
The biggest issue with Jones, by far, is his (in)ability to bring down ballcarriers on first contact. Jones showed up to the Senior Bowl weighing 219 pounds and checked in at 222 pounds at the combine. His lack of size inhibits his ability to be effective tackler sometimes. Even against wide receivers he sometimes gets dragged up the field for a yard or a yard and a half.
The most egregious showing of this lack of strength was in the 2015 game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Jake Coker lowered his shoulder into Jones and the rest was history.
(Warning: The following clip is graphic)
The speed is clear, the brains are there, and the awareness in coverage automatically represents an upgrade from what the Falcons had in coverage last year. However, some of these plays of Deion Jones attempting to bring down even average sized players are disturbing. When Dan Quinn, Scott Pioli, and Thomas Dimitroff are considering drafting Jones they really need to ask themselves one question:
How much should we really value speed?
In that regard, Jones (as would most suggest) is a clear upgrade for the Falcons at the weakside linebacker position. Almost any linebacker that comes via the draft will be a day one starter. What's interesting with Jones is trying to figure out how much the Falcons and rest of the league value him.
One thing that's playing in Jones' favor in regards to his tackling is that he has the requisite physicality. He's not shying away from running backs or receivers, he just needs to get a little bit more sand in his pants and develop upper and lower body strength. The attitude is there, the rest is shaky.
How high should the Falcons take him? If Deion Jones is available for the Falcons third round pick (81st overall), then they should certainly pull the trigger to bring him to Atlanta.
Burning the second round pick on Jones becomes a bit more of an interesting endeavor, especially if they haven't managed to find a suitable upgrade at strong safety. The Falcons don't need a player like Deion Jones like they need a Keanu Neal or a Karl Joseph. Jones seems to be perfect third round value where his expectations will be tempered, but he can compete for playing time right away.