While the offensive side of the ball is where Atlanta’s identity lies, Dan Quinn’s unit hopes to improve on their No. 20-ranked total defense from 2019. That improvement could be key to getting Atlanta back into the playoffs for the first time in three years.
In case you missed it, we recently counted down the five most important players on the offensive side of the ball for the Falcons going into 2020. Now, we’re going to do the same exercise with the defensive unit.
Just like with the most important offensive players, I would like to note that this isn’t a direct list of the five best players on the defense side of the ball, but rather the five players whom the team can least afford to perform poorly or to lose to injury/suspension — whether that’s because of their incredible talent or because of the team’s lack of positional depth.
2) Deion Jones
The Atlanta Falcons have plenty of storylines on the defensive side of the football going into 2020 — the revamping of the defensive line, how A.J. Terrell and the new-look CB corps will fare, Keanu Neal’s return from achilles injury.
Deion Jones isn’t picking up any of the headlines, but he’ll go into the 2020 season as important of a player as he has ever been in the middle of the defense.
Jones ascended into the ranks of elite linebackers in his sophomore campaign in 2017, before a foot injury cost him the majority of the 2018 season. He didn’t quite get back to his ridiculous 2017-form last season, but he was still a standout at the position.
Jones graded out as the fourth-best LB in coverage in 2019 according to PFF, and a fully healthy season saw him rack up another 100+ tackles for the third time in his four-year career. LaVonte David (10) was also the only linebacker in football to record more tackles for loss in 2019 than Debo (9).
Jones goes into 2020 in the prime of his career, in his age-26 season. An ascension back to his 2017 level (when he was PFF’s highest graded linebacker in coverage) is certainly within the realm of possibility, especially with what is expected to be an improved pass rush working in front of him thanks to that aforementioned defensive line revamp.
The Falcons improved their LB depth from the beginning of the offseason with the signing of Deone Bucannon and the drafting of fourth round selection of Mykal Walker, but Jones would be simply irreplaceable for the Falcons in the middle of the team’s defense if he were forced to miss time for any reason (as we saw in 2018).
Jones isn’t the shiny new draft pick A.J. Terrell or Malon Davidson are, or the shiny new free agent shining a la Dante Fowler, but he continues to be the steady metronome in the middle of Atlanta’s defense and his importance to the team’s success going into 2020 can’t be understated.