Most NFL analysts and media members wouldn’t argue with the notion that Deion Jones is an elite player at his position, firmly in a majority of top 10 lists. Still, when people shout out a few of the best linebackers in football, Debo is rarely included in those situations, but advanced metrics show that the former LSU Tiger should be mentioned among the league’s best.
Quantifying off-ball LBs can be tough, partially because they play a role in coverage, run stop and pass rush.
Here's a plot getting at all 3. Run Stop Win Rate (x) by EPA per coverage snap allowed (y), with color indicating Pass Rush Win Rate. Up/Right/Red = good.
Some notes: pic.twitter.com/KAFhiSRFC0
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) August 9, 2021
We are looking at the top-right quadrant as the league’s best linebackers in the game. Essentially, this graph reads that Debo is better than every single one of these elite players at defending the run but one of the worst at defending the pass. Still, if you look at the entire axis, Jones is better than Devin White and Darius Leonard at defending the pass — both of whom are widely considered better than Debo.
The color of each player’s name designates how effective they are rushing the passer; red is elite — better than Eric Kendricks, Fred Warner, and Demario Davis. Falcons linebackers coach Frank Bush knows how experienced Jones is as a blitzer and will lean on him for their multiple defense.
So when combining all three phases, Jones is among the league’s best. Bobby Wagner and Jon Bostic are the only two linebackers who are comparable as well-rounded linebackers. Jones didn’t play up to his contract’s standard in 2019 or the start of 2020, but once Dan Quinn was fired and Raheem Morris gave the defensive coordinator job to Jeff Ulbrich, Jones was used in a much more effective way.
Once Raheem Morris became interim head coach, and Jeff Ulbrich was named defensive coordinator, there was a clear difference in Jones’s production. Before Quinn was fired (weeks 1-5), Jones recorded 37 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, two TFL, and one QB hit. After Morris took over (weeks 6-17), Jones saw an uptick in every statistic — 69 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, seven TFL, nine QB hits, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), six passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
Dean Pees will use Deion Jones in every way possible this year and fully maximize his ability. I fully expect Jones to challenge for All-Pro honors by the season’s end.