Coming into 2020, the Falcons linebacking corps was an overall question mark. Deion Jones is a star, but he was coming off a relatively rough 2019 campaign. Foye Oluokun had shown promise, but what would he look like in a full-time role? Mykal Walker was a complete unknown as a rookie in a disrupted season.
Thankfully, this unit ended up being a bright spot for the defense. Let’s take a look at each player and how they contributed to the 2020 season.
2020 stats: 16 games, 106 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 interceptions
To be clear, Deion Jones started the season in a fog. He looked lost or uninterested for the first several games and it wasn’t until Dan Quinn was fired that the light appeared to come back on. However, once it did, the Debo we know and love started showing up in force.
The thing to remember with Jones is that he has limitations. He’s never going to be the best tackler. However, his coverage is phenomenal and his ability to cover a lot of ground is unquestioned. He even added another pick 6 to his impressive coverage resume. As Jeff Ulbrich began using more blitzes, Deion showed he could be a key factor in rushing the passer, netting 4.5 sacks on the year - which sadly lead the team. With Dean Pees coming in, Jones and Oluokun could be in for even better performances going forward.
2020 stats: 15 games, 117 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions
No Falcons defender took a bigger step forward this year than Foye. He lead the team in tackles, forced 4 fumbles, pulled in 2 interceptions and added 3 sacks for good measure. He demonstrated that not only was he ready for a bigger role, he was ready to be recognized on a national scale.
While he was slowed down for a few games due to injury, he finished the year strong and - at times - was the best of this linebacking corps. He was consistently good and sometimes borderline phenomenal. His showed himself to be athletic and instinctive - a rare combination in the NFL. His emergence in 2020 helps to solidify this position group for the future.
2020 stats: 16 games, 45 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 0 sacks, 0 interceptions
This was a tough year for rookies and maybe doubly so for a fourth round pick like Walker. That didn’t stop him from being the highest rated rookie linebacker by PFF and showing his future with the team may be a bright one. Walker has work to do as a run defender, but his coverage was rated as “elite” by the analytics site.
That said, he did all of this while in a relatively limited role. Whether he can continue to perform this well in year 2 remains to be seen, but given the challenges of the 2020 season, this is a hell of a start.
2020 stats: 16 games, 12 tackles, 0 tackles for loss, 0 sacks, 0 interceptions
Reynolds is on the roster for his acumen on special teams, but in limited bouts as an actual linebacker, he has served as a decent backup with limited upside.
The Falcons will need to find some outside linebackers for the 3-4 scheme Dean Pees will want to run, but the guys on the inside seem to be pretty secure after a relatively strong 2020 campaign. The athleticism and coverage chops in this unit are top-notch, though the tackling could definitely be improved upon. Their outlook for 2021 is promising, especially with a good, veteran defensive coordinator coming in who knows how to use linebackers with their collective skillsets. With all of the frustrations with this team in 2020, it’s good to know that this unit should be a solid one going forward.