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Falcons coach: Deion Jones can be top middle LB

Deion Jones is one of the rangiest linebackers in the NFL, but Atlanta Falcons assistant head coach Jeff Ulbrich believes he can take his game to another level.

"Deion is a guy that I see has the potential to be the best middle linebacker in the NFL," Ulbrich said this week, via the team's official website. "I really do."

Jones is an athletic marvel, with speed to track running backs in space, the strength to blanket tight ends, and the gumption to crash down against the run.

"In this game that we play today, it's all about matchups and athleticism, space and a lot of grass," Ulbrich, who also coaches linebackers, said. "He's custom made for that because he's got so much speed and athleticism."

The speed is what got Jones paid last offseason, signing a $57 million extension despite coming off an injury-rattled 2018 campaign.

Last season, Jones was one of the Falcons' best defensive players -- behind only Grady Jarrett. He compiled 110 tackles -- third time in his four years over the century mark -- with five passes defended and one INT.

The speed Jones provides in the middle to get sideline to sideline is ideal for today's NFL in which some offenses love to spread the ball horizontally.

The 25-year-old remains a stud but still has room to grow, ranking sixth among all linebackers who played at least 75 percent of the snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus' metrics. His coverage ability makes him elite, but improvements in reading and understanding what offenses want to do before the snap -- a la the likes of Luke Kuechly, Lavonte David or Bobby Wagner -- would raise his game another notch.

"At the same time, there are parts of his game that he'd acknowledge that he can take to the next level," Ulbrich said. "I'm not going to say that he has huge glaring weaknesses, because I don't think that's the case, but I think that there is another place he can go in areas of his game that aren't his strengths."

With coach Dan Quinn getting another season, everyone in Atlanta is under the microscope. The Falcons defense needs to play at least as well as it did down the stretch, or better. If Jones raises his play to further heights in 2020, Quinn's defense could have a chance to finally be the unit he's promised for the last several years.

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