Falcons: Where does Deion Jones rank among the top linebackers?

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The Falcons had few bright spots this 2020 NFL season. One of them being their linebacking corp., with breakout seasons from Mykal Walker and Foyesade Oluokun. The two made the Falcons feel good about their decision to let De’Vondre Cambell walk. But what really allowed Walker and Oluokun to do what they accel at was the ever consistent Deion Jones.

Debo should be in every conversation with Bobby WagnerLavonte DavidDarius LeonardFred Warner, or whoever else you think are the top five linebackers right now. According to PFF writer Ben Linsey, Debo was the fifth-ranked linebacker in the NFL heading into the 2020 season, a spot he earns on the strength of his coverage ability.

There is an argument to be made that Jones is the best coverage linebacker in the NFL. His 92.1 coverage grade since getting drafted in 2016 trails only Kuechly and David among qualifying linebackers, and despite missing much of the 2018 season, Jones’ 26 forced incompletions are tied for second-most at the position over that four-year stretch. Atlanta needs several of the young cornerbacks they’ve added to step up in order to see meaningful improvement in their team coverage, but the impact that Jones has over the middle of the field shouldn’t be overlooked.

According to PFF, Debo actually regressed a bit in pass coverage this season. However, his biggest asset — the ability to change the game with a single play — was still prevalent throughout all 17 weeks. Debo has long been renowned for his athletic ability, but he lacks the national attention he deserves, which isn’t surprising given how poorly the Falcons (particularly defensively) have played over the last three years. Jones can single-handily change the momentum of a game, just like he did in 2017 when he picked off Drew Brees in the endzone to win a critical matchup.

The only linebackers who earn more per year than Debo are (in order) Bobby Wagner, C.J. Mosely, Zach Cunnigham, and Myles Jack — Wagner being the only one deserving. I don’t necessarily agree with allocating so much money at the inside linebacker position, but Debo makes a case to change my opinion. Just as C.J. Mosely has failed to live up to his record-breaking contract yet, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether an inside linebacker deserves that kind of money.

If the Falcons decided to get out from Debo’s salary, they would be able to in a couple of years. But I can’t wait to see a new defensive coordinator, hopefully, use Jones in a rover type of roll that allows him to move wherever he wants along the line of scrimmage. This is only possible thanks to Oluokun’s impressive play. But the two, Debo and Oluokun, are one of the best inside linebacker duos in the NFL. Any defensive coordinator would covet two three-down, athletic, play-makers at the second-level.

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