By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
With the 2017 NFL Draft, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones marked the end of a whirlwind year. The Falcons’ second-round pick in 2016, Jones went on to have a stellar rookie season, leading the team in both tackles and interceptions. That culminated in the team’s appearance in Super Bowl LI, which they ultimately lost to the New England Patriots.
Now, as Jones embarks on his second year, he is awaiting another first – the birth of his first child. But, on his girlfriend’s due date, with no sign yet of an appearance of Baby Girl Jones, the linebacker was in mini-camp, continuing his efforts to get better each day.
Football has been part of Jones’ life as long as he can remember. Both his father, Cal, and his mother, Tahonas, have always been big football fans; in particular, big New Orleans Saints fans. Growing up in that city, it was all Saints all the time. Well, sort of. Deion, in his words, was a “supporter” of the Saints, but as a big fan of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, he rooted for Baltimore. That choice wasn’t a particularly popular one, especially among his own family.
“I was an outcast,” Jones laughed. “Everyone was mad at me.”
Then, on Draft day 2016, it got a tad worse when it was the Saints’ archrival Falcons who selected Jones, which, through all the excitement, no one was focused on until Cal blurted out, “Oh my God, he’s going to be a dirty bird.”
Jones began playing football at a young age. Cal had played all through high school and, along with Tahonas, always encouraged his son to pursue his own football dreams. In fact, Jones is named after football great, Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. He is also partially named after football and baseball star, Bo Jackson. Jones’ nickname, Debo, is a combination of those two men’s first names.
“My mom and dad started me off having a love for the game,” Jones said. “Then, when I got older, on my way to high school, I decided [the NFL was] the route I want to take, and that I would have to put in a lot of hard work. My parents did a real good job of motivating me.”
That motivation, along with his own inner drive, led to a scholarship from LSU where he bided his time for three years, making a name for himself on special teams before having a breakout year at linebacker his senior season. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award (given to college football’s most outstanding linebacker), was the team’s leading tackler with 100 and racked up five sacks. Then he got that call from the Falcons.
As he looks back at this past year, Jones has tried to take it all in, while also looking ahead, especially as he now finds himself in a mentor role with this year’s rookies.
“It’s just blessing after blessing,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy how fast the year came back around. It’s been enjoyable now having a different outlook. It seemed like all the work and all the time and all the guys who helped me along the way paid off. I just took it week by week and day by day, and learned from all the experiences.
“I couldn’t have written it myself, but I’m very proud of what I did. The hard work I put in and the people who helped me out, it was great.”
And Jones laughed again when asked what happened to all that Saints gear he grew up around.
“I made them get it out of the house.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.