Deion Jones is the New Orleans native who has spent his last four years playing for the LSU Tigers in college football’s SEC. Recently he and I discussed college football, draft preparation, and his future in the NFL, potentially with the Buccaneers.
Deion Jones, LSU’s 2015 leading tackler spent three years primarily as a special teams contributor before earning a starting spot following the departure of current Buccaneers linebacker, Kwon Alexander. In the end, it was worth the wait but as Jones says himself, it was not always easy.
"“At first it was a little nerve racking, because I always set high expectations of myself. I wanted to be a first year starter and be a part of that LSU defense. It was humbling to realize I’m not the big guy on campus anymore. I had (Chicago Bears linebacker) Lamin Barrow in front of me, and Kwon, to compete with those guys everyday but I had to find a way to contribute to the team in any kind of way I can. That’s when I found my way on special teams and I enjoyed it. I was having fun even though I got in a few reps at a time, but I was still in the mix of things.”"
When the 2015 season began, Jones was not highly touted as a pro prospect, but he took every opportunity to perform and ran with it.
After the season, he was tagged as a third round prospect with potential. Following his Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and Pro Day performances – including a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash time – Jones has climbed the boards and is now looking more like a second round pick. Asked whether or not he feels he’s helped increase his draft stock, Jones said
"“I think so, I think I’ve definitely increased my stock, but you know it’s not done until it’s done. I just (have to) be thankful for whoever picks me and accept it, and hit the ground running wherever I go.”"
The process of going from college student-athlete to professional football player has been known to be a daunting one, a point not lost on Jones, but he points to advice given to him by former a former teammate as helping him keep it all in perspective.
"“From my homeboy, Kwon Alexander, who plays for the Buccaneers. He told me pretty much, just try and enjoy the whole process because if you let it beat you up and get down, and let it overwhelm you then you’re not really going to enjoy the whole process. It’s going to get stressful, you’re going to start getting tired of it, you just really have to take it one day at a time and enjoy every step of it.”"
For the Bucs’ general manager Jason Licht and his personnel staff, Jones is a late 2nd-rounder who should definitely be on the team’s radar. To this point only Atlanta and Carolina have had private conversations and workouts with him, but this isn’t necessarily a sign the team isn’t interested.
Potentially they’re so interested they don’t have any further questions, and are in fact hiding it through inaction. Such are the times of draft positioning and posturing.
When I asked Deion how he felt about the possibility of playing with Alexander again, he said,
"“That would be crazy. That would be nice. That’d be a good feeling I think, that would be fun, to be back on the same team as my boy.”"
Unfortunately, teams don’t draft to keep friends together, they draft to make their systems and schemes work. For a team expected to move into a 4-3 base defense under new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, Jones’ skill set suits the system best as a middle linebacker. However, with a year to play behind veteran free-agent acquisition Daryl Smith, Jones could easily become the teams’ future weak-side linebacker after Smith’s one-year deal expires.
As it pertains to the 4-3, Jones expressed he would feel very comfortable working as a weak-side linebacker while Alexander manned the middle and Pro Bowler Lavonte David continues to secure the strong-side. Having the ability to then move him inside with Kwon when shifting into situational 3-4 bases, would add a fluidity and flexibility the Bucs defense hasn’t had in quite some time.
When the draft comes to a close, Jones will find out where his new home is, and which NFL stadium he’ll be running onto for at least the first part of his career. While the Buccaneers would be wise to add him to their roster, the truth of the business is there are 31 other teams who could use his services as well.
No matter what, Jones will continue to live by his motto: “Enjoy the Crumbs” which he explains,
"“You (have to) enjoy everything they give you. When I was at LSU, I made the best of what they gave me. I always said, I (have to) enjoy the crumbs, don’t get too caught up on the big meal.”"
Focusing on the little things led him to stardom at LSU, and will set him up nicely going into the NFL.
Here’s hoping those crumbs lead him to Tampa, where a linebacker corps of Jones, Alexander, and David would feast on NFC South opponents for years.