The Atlanta Falcons have completely revamped their linebacker corps. They’ve turned it into a respectable unit with fast and physical players galore! Given that the Falcons were struggling to piece together an NFL caliber linebacker corps just a few years ago, it’s actually quite remarkable what Quinn and his staff have accomplished. In April the Falcons added another talented young linebacker: Duke Riley.
Falcoholic alumnus and recent Mothership hire Will McFadden wrote up a detailed piece about Riley. (You should go read it now, if you haven’t already.)
Atlanta found one of the best young linebackers in the game when it drafted LSU’s Deion Jones in the 2016 NFL Draft. With their third-round pick this year, the Falcons snagged another Tigers linebacker and reunited Jones and Riley. Like his new Falcons teammate, Riley did not become a full-time starter at LSU until his senior season.
Jones first arrived at LSU in 2012; he was relegated to reserve duty for three seasons, then broke out as senior. Riley got to LSU one year after Jones in 2013; he too labored as a reserve for three seasons, before breaking out as a senior. They both had to stand out on special teams. They both were criticized because they’re undersized. Last fall Riley was frequently compared to Jones, and it’s easy to see why.
So as training camp gets underway, this is a relationship I’m going to watch closely. Will Jones help in Riley’s development? Absolutely. In fact, I think it’s a huge advantage. A leading member of Riley’s unit went to the same college he went to, basically charted his path, and then immediately earned substantial playing time as a rookie. Jones has a road map Riley can and should exploit, if he’s smart and works hard enough.