Go ahead and name me a linebacker who is better than Deion Jones. Even if you come up with one, I’m willing to bet you’ll struggle with two or three. He’s only in his second season, but he has already become a superstar by any definition you care to use.
There are plenty of people eager to talk up Jones, whose blend of insane athleticism and football smarts has made him an immediate legend in Atlanta. But I think few have captured Jones as well as Robert Mays did at The Ringer, who talked to Jones and the team’s linebackers coach to put together his piece.
It’s a well-timed article, covering Jones just as he gets ready to suit up for a Divisional Round matchup against a physical, talented Eagles squad that will be a legitimate challenge for both the Falcons offense and defense. Jones will be one of the key players in the matchup, as he’ll need to tail some talented backs around, provide run support, and hopefully make the kind of big plays that have decided games in 2017.
What makes it interesting is seeing Jones acknowledge that the game was, at times, too much for him in his rookie season. As Jeff Ulbrich says, many players have at least 80% of Jones’ athleticism, but very few can translate that into a more complete game. What makes Jones remarkable is not just that he can fly to the ball and make freakishly athletic interceptions, but that he has a sense of where he needs to be at virtually all times.
“I realized that I could run with almost anyone,” Jones says. “If I play my technique right, I can play with any speed.”
When the dust settles on the Dan Quinn era (hopefully a decade or more from now, if I may be greedy), Jones may well be remembered as the best player on this burgeoning defense. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he’s the team’s most talented linebacker since Jessie Tuggle, and if he continues to play at the level he’s playing at now or somehow gets even better, he’ll go down as the best in Atlanta history. That sounds like high praise or perhaps even hyperbole, but I think we all know it’s not.
Hopefully Jones can live up to all this lofty praise again today as the Falcons seek a second straight NFC Conference Championship berth.