Deion Jones has been an annual top-15 linebacker since he entered the NFL in 2016. He has been a complete linebacker who has graded out well in every phase of the game. However, the 2021 season for Jones was an utter disappointment, at least for his standards, and it seems like a lot of fantasy managers are ready to move on.
The Falcons also seem ready to move on from Jones with the team in complete rebuild mode. They drafted Troy Andersen in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft, signed Rashaan Evans in free agency, and also have Mykal Walker waiting to show progression in his third season in the NFL. There are many reasons why you should jump at the chance to grab Jones, let's take a look at some of them.
Jones took the NFL by storm as a rookie, compiling 108 total tackles, four for a loss, 11 passes defended, three interceptions, one forced fumble, two QB hits, two touchdowns, and five pressures. This performance earned him Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He followed that up with his best season to date with 138 tackles, 10 for a loss, 10 passes defended, and three interceptions. Over Jones' six-year career, he has been a volume tackler, averaging just under eight tackles per game over his career. Jones had broken the century mark for tackles in every season except in 2018 when he was limited to just six games with a pedal foot fracture. Still, in those six games, Jones racked up 53 total tackles, just under nine per game.
From 2016 to 2020, Jones graded out as one of the better linebackers in coverage in the NFL. Jones had 38 passes defended and 11 interceptions during those five seasons, and again, 2018 was only six games. 2021 was an outlier for Jones in terms of coverage. There were moments he seemed lost, maybe disinterested, but so did most of the 2021 Falcons. Even still, in what many considered a down year for Jones, he still showed ample production. He finished 2021 with 137 tackles, eight for a loss, two sacks, six passes defended, and a forced fumble. His 109 solo tackles were good enough for 9th in the NFL. It is hard to produce more when your teammate (Oluokun) racks up 192 tackles.
Jones' New Role on Defense
Jones' drop in coverage is likely due to different usage. Jones totaled just 87 pass-rush snaps over his first four seasons. In 2020 he totaled 85 pass-rush snaps and 80 in 2021. He almost totaled four times more pass-rush snaps per season over his last two than he did during his previous four seasons. This also predictably led to more pressures as well as sacks. Jones compiled only 23 pressures and two sacks in his first four seasons. That total jumped to 31 pressures and 6.5 sacks over the past two seasons. His change in role was likely due to the emergence of Foyesade Oluokun who racked up 309 tackles and 961 coverage snaps. Jones finally found a partner that allowed him to expand his game.
This proved that Jones is a complete linebacker, even though he had a down year in general for 2021. He has been asked to do virtually everything during his time in Atlanta, likely because the staff trusts his abilities the most.
The Falcons Depth Chart
Oluokun broke out in 2020 and then led the league in tackles in 2021. This happened during a contract year, unfortunately, and the Falcons chose not to fork over a huge contract. Oluokun left via free agency, joining the Jaguars for 2022. This left a hole for a starting role next to Deion Jones. There are three potential starters for the Falcons to deploy along with Jones. They have incumbent third-year player Mykal Walker who has seen very limited action so far during his career. He has only seen 581 total snaps over his first two years accumulating 51 tackles while boasting a 10.95% missed tackle rate. When he has seen more volume (23 or more snaps) that missed tackle rate jumps up to 16.21%. Not an ideal statistic for an every-down role.
They also signed Rashaan Evans in free agency. Evans is coming off of his worst season as a pro where his snap share was cut virtually in half from the previous season. The part that stands out the most though is the fact that every-down linebacker Jayon Brown missed significant time. It was not Evans who stepped up, it was David Long Jr who swallowed up the vacant snaps. The Falcons also drafted Troy Andersen out of Montana St. He spent his first two collegiate seasons as a quarterback and a running back. Though he was incredibly productive, he only has two full seasons as a linebacker. He also played in the FCS against lesser competition. The learning curve from the FCS to the NFL could force Andersen to be eased into work. If Deion Jones is not traded or cut, he is the apparent three-down candidate in Atlanta. The best-case scenario is that he stays and is thrust into his old role of a dominant interior linebacker.
Best Landing Spots if Cut or Traded
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