Great news, everyone! Deion Jones will officially return to the field this week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Jones was activated off of injured reserve on Nov. 12, with the team waiving offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo to make room for the star middle linebacker. Though he was eligible to return to the field in Week 11 against the Cowboys, that didn’t happen.
#Falcons activated LB Deion Jones off IR. Waived OT Rees Odhiambo.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) November 12, 2018
Quinn told me on the Wednesday before the Cowboys game that he didn’t know whether or not Jones will be able to play on Sunday. He was listed as limited on the team’s injury report for Wednesday.
Now that Jones is finally good to go, he’ll step right back into his starting role as the team’s middle linebacker. That will push Foye Oluokun to a part-time role, which he is very much suited for, and will push Duke Riley to a handful of snaps and special teams duty going forward. If Jones can return and be even 80-90% of himself, he’ll be a massive upgrade for a defense starved for one.
Our fuller look at Jones’ injury and status can be found below.
The Falcons have an absurd number of key players on injured reserve, but Deion Jones’ stint on the sideline has arguably been the biggest loss for the defense. Jones landed on IR following Atlanta’s Week 1 loss to the Eagles with a foot injury.
Last year, Jones was an integral part of Atlanta’s much-improved defensive attack. Tackles aren’t the best stat by which to judge a player’s performance without any other context, but Jones led the team in them with 138. In his particular case, that’s a testament to his playing speed and the great instincts that keep him around the ball.
He also led the team in interceptions with three last season, which isn’t something you’d necessarily expect from a middle linebacker, and he added a sack to his stat line. His performance earned him the first Pro Bowl nod of his career, and we all expected similar things from him this season before this injury derailed that possibility.
Jones is eligible to return to the field in Week 11 when the Falcons face the Cowboys. Here’s everything you need to know about his situation.
What happened to Deion Jones?
Deion played in Atlanta’s Week 1 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia, contributing nine tackles, two pass breakups, and one pick. He suffered an injury that we now know was a broken foot, and it required a medical procedure to repair. The team placed him on injured reserve prior to its Week 2 win over the Panthers.
The news was especially painful given that strong safety Keanu Neal had been placed on injured reserve that week, also, after tearing his ACL against the Eagles. They were soon joined by free safety Ricardo Allen, running back Devonta Freeman, and both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco.
Dan Quinn said at the time that they expected Jones would be able to return, and he did return to practice on the Wednesday before Atlanta’s Week 10 matchup against the Browns. Per the league’s rules, the earliest he can get back on the field on game day will be Week 11.
What are the rules for bringing Deion Jones back from IR?
The league changed its rules for bringing players back from injured reserve in 2017. Now teams can bring two players back from injured reserve each season. A player does not have to be designated to return at the time that they are placed on IR anymore, which gives teams much more flexibility. So we could still potentially see another player, and Devonta Freeman is the most likely, return to the field for the Falcons in a few weeks if he’s healthy enough.
When a player lands on IR, they have to remain sidelined for at least eight games. Since the bye week for the Falcons fell within that span, that means Deion is required to sit out for nine weeks total before he is eligible to return.
While a player is on IR, they’re not allowed to practice and they don’t count against the 53-man roster. But they are permitted to undertake their rehab at the team’s facility, attend meetings, and be around the team. Jones has been doing all of that, and that means that mentally he’s still immersed in the team’s efforts. That should help with a seamless return.
Jones was technically still on IR when he returned to practice, but there’s flexibility there with teams returning players from injured reserve. The team can’t get a sense of whether or not the player is healthy enough to play until they see him practice. Teams have 21 days from the date a player returns to practice to make the decision on whether or not they will put him back on the active roster or return him to injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Dan Quinn told me on Wednesday that he’s unsure at this time if Jones will be active for Sunday’s game against Dallas. But the fact that he has already returned to practice is reason enough to be optimistic that, barring any setbacks, we’ll see him on the field against the Cowboys.
What does Deion Jones’ return mean for the Falcons?
This might have been a much different answer if we hadn’t seen the defense start to gel recently. Jones’ return means this defense might actually be better than adequate down the stretch.
We’ve already seen Damontae Kazee, who currently leads the NFL in interceptions with five this season, excelling in the free safety role in Ricardo Allen’s absence. Sharrod Neasman is holding his own in Neal’s stead, and he’s certainly an upgrade over Jordan Richards. The backup players have settled in, and faster play and more confidence has accompanied that comfort level.
Foye Oluokun has played well for the Falcons, and he’ll still be a valuable rotational guy once Jones is back in the starting role. But Jones returning means the Falcons have experience, speed, and pure athleticism at the middle linebacker spot.
The offense has been fantastic. Any team that’s averaging over 28 points a game should be able to lock up plenty of wins for a postseason bid, but this Falcons team can only do that if the defense can slow down opponents.
Looking down the stretch, the Browns, Cowboys, Cardinals, and Buccaneers stand out as games Atlanta theoretically should win, but you know, any given Sunday. The rest of the schedule — the Saints, Ravens, Packers, and Panthers, with both of those NFC South matchups in hostile territory and seeing Green Bay on the road in December — loom large. Having a sure tackler with Jones’ blazing closing speed and instincts back in action suddenly makes those tough matchups seem a little less insurmountable.
And let’s not forget that Deion Jones absolutely owns Drew Brees and the Saints. He’s had 38 tackles, eight pass breakups, and three picks — including a pick-six in his first career matchup against New Orleans and a game-saving interception last season against the Saints on Thursday Night Football — in his first four games against Atlanta’s most hated rival.
After all of the injuries and the rocky start to the season, the Falcons are still very much in contention. But with the Saints and the Panthers sitting ahead of Atlanta in the NFC South, the Falcons need all the help they can get to lock up a third consecutive trip to the playoffs. Getting Jones back, along with the improved defensive play overall and the addition of Irvin, makes that goal much more realistic.