In the first installment of Featured Falcon Friday, we take a look at the defensive MVP of last Monday night’s victory over the Saints – Falcons rookie middle linebacker and newly minted Defensive Rookie of the Month, Deion Jones.
Deion Jones was born to be an Atlanta Falcon. Born on November 4, 1994 to Cal and Tahones Jones, Deion was named after legendary Falcons cornerback Deion Sanders.
One watching Monday’s game might have mistaken “Debo” (a combination of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, his father’s two favorite players) with his namesake Dirty Bird. With the Saints driving deep in Falcon territory down two scores, Jones found himself in the right place at the right time for a deflected Drew Brees pass. Deion would go on to race Brandin Cooks 90 yards for the score, effectively ending any hope of a Saints comeback.
Debo showed off just why he was selected in the second round as he reached a top speed of 21.72 mph on the play, the fastest time by a ball carrier on a touchdown in week 3 per Randall Liu of the NFL:
Even the great Deion Sanders would have to be impressed with that.
Jones was born to make that play. In his hometown of New Orleans, no one else on the Falcons roster was better suited to make the game-clinching play than him. What makes his pick-six all the more special, though, is the journey Jones took to get to this point.
Debo was only ten years old when tragedy struck his family and the city he calls home. Hurricane Katrina took everything from him, including his grandmother. He was forced to call Mississippi and Texas home for seven months before he could be reunited with his family back in New Orleans.
If that was the only test Deion had to face in his life, many would still consider that to be adverse. But the Falcons rookie linebacker has faced adversity at each stage of his life following the events of Katrina.
Jones attended Jesuit High School, an esteemed Catholic school attended mostly by doctors’ and lawyers’ kids. As the son of a cab driver and Subway restaurant manager, few would have expected Deion to make it in this affluent environment, much less flourish. But that is exactly what Deion did.
In his senior year of high school, Debo took home Jesuit’s most prestigious award, the Blue Jay of the Year. His stellar swan song at Jesuit led Deion to receive a late offer from his hometown LSU Tigers. As a result, he decommited from Nebraska and decided to spend his college years closer to home in Baton Rouge. Just like Jones’s first two chapters of his life, this next one was not without struggle.
In the spring following his freshman season, LSU head coach Les Miles called Cal Jones. Deion had spent the previous season exclusively on special teams, and Miles noticed Debo’s effort had subsided. The message Miles and his father relayed to him was “pimp or die,” a phrase used in Jones’s neighborhood to mean “put in the work or quit.”
Jones decided to choose the former. Deion finally got his chance to shine in his senior season, and much like his Jesuit high school days, he saved his best for last. Following a season in which he recorded 92 tackles, 11.5 for loss, four sacks, and two interceptions, Debo was named the Tigers’ defensive MVP and a finalist for the Butkus award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
Jones’s singular season as a starter proved to be enough to earn him a second round grade by the draft pundits. He would solidify that mark at his pro day when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds, the fastest of all draft eligible linebackers. In spite of his elite speed, scouts raised concerns about Deion’s size to play linebacker at the next level.
But as we’ve seen before, overcoming adversity is nothing new for Deion Jones. The Falcons didn’t shy away from drafting the smallish linebacker because they knew what they were getting. They chose a man that withstood one of the country’s worst natural disasters, a man with the resolve to succeed in situations typically reserved for the privileged few, and a man driven to accomplish his goals no matter how long they may take.
The investment in Jones has already paid early dividends. Since being selected with the 52nd overall pick, Debo has won the starting middle linebacker position out of training camp, ranks as the team leader in tackles through the first three games, and just yesterday, was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the month for September. If the first month of his professional career is any indication, Deion Jones is well on his way to proving the critics wrong once again.
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