The Buffalo Bills’ defense was inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts weren’t able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look Louisiana State linebacker Deion Jones.
With teams throwing the ball more than ever, the need for linebackers that can stay on the field for all three downs while having the athleticism to run with wide receivers, tight ends and running backs is at an all-time high. Due to the increased responsibilities of linebackers in the passing game, we’ve seen linebackers get smaller and smaller with each draft class as a premium is placed on range and cover skills.
Previous Prospect Breakdowns
Deion Jones was a standout on special teams for LSU for three seasons before taking over the starting linebacker position next to Kendall Beckwith in the Tigers’ nickel-based defense in the 2015 season. As a senior, Deion Jones recorded 100 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions, three pass breakups and a forced fumble while playing 88% of the team’s defensive snaps.
Deion Jones Size/ Physical Attributes
At the Senior Bowl, Deion Jones measured in at 6’1” and 219 pounds—a very concerning number for a linebacker—with 32 ½” arms. Jones is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete that has great speed and footwork that allow him to cover a lot of ground in a hurry. At 219 pounds, Jones’ doesn’t have the functional strength you’d like to see and his lack of bulk can be an issue, particularly when defending the run.
Deion Jones Run Support
According to RealFootballNetwork’s advanced statistics, Deion Jones recorded 24 run disruptions and six stuffs against the run. When his defensive line can hold their ground at the point of attack and keep him clean, Deion Jones shows good instincts, short area quickness and the aggressiveness to shoot a gap and make a play.
Jones’ athleticism and length allow him to occasionally fight off blocks by using his hands before wrapping up the ball-carrier, as you can see in the following play against the Florida Gators.
Against Alabama, Deion Jones shows the ability to get off a block by an offensive linemen and his impressive closing speed to get across the hashes and bring down Derrick Henry at the line of scrimmage, one of the toughest running backs to tackle in the nation.
However, more often than not, Deion Jones can be a liability against the run. His light frame makes it easy for opposing linemen to eliminate him from the play and most tight ends have at least 20 pounds on him.
Against Alabama, the defensive line isn’t able to control the line of scrimmage and the Crimson Tide’s right tackle is able to get to the second level and just manhandle Deion Jones, physically moving him out of the play. This provides a huge hole for Derrick Henry and he takes it 45 yards for a touchdown.
Deion Jones is also an inconsistent tackler. There are too many occasions where he’ll either leave his feet and lower his head, completely whiffing on a ball-carrier or simply overrun a landmark and find himself away from the play. He missed or allowed a broken tackle 12 times in 2015 with 10 coming on run plays.
Deion Jones Coverage Ability
When dropping into coverage, Deion Jones shows good range and foot speed, displaying fluidity in his hips to turn and change direction with ease. In 2015, Jones was targeted 43 times—the third most among linebackers—and allowed 28 catches for 286 yards.
Here against the Gators, Jones moves out to the slot to cover a wide receiver. He drops into coverage facing the sideline, but the receiver is running a slant. As the wideout cuts inside, Jones flips his hips and gets inside leverage, putting himself in a perfect position to break up the pass.
Jones has the speed to cover the flats while preventing any additional yards after the catch, as he shows against Eastern Michigan.
He shows good instincts and awareness in zone coverage and will break on routes.
Potential Fit with Buffalo Bills
If Deion Jones can add some weight to his frame without sacrificing much of his athletic ability, he’d be an intriguing option as an inside linebacker alongside Preston Brown. He’s an aggressive, run-and-chase defender that can cover, but needs to be kept clean to be productive in the run game. The Bills’ need athleticism at the linebacker position and Deion Jones can be a valuable asset against the popular running back wheel routes and can protect the seams against tight ends. He’s not an ideal fit for a 3-4 front, but if he can improve his play strength against the run, Jones has a high ceiling with the physical tools to be an impact defender.