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Pro Football Focus names Falcons’ Deion Jones among the players on the cusp of elite status

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The Falcons’ defense has made great strides over the past two seasons, and the man in the middle of the unit has earned recognition as one of the top young players in the NFL.
Part of a new breed of middle linebackers, Deion Jones has become a true playmaker for the Falcons. Pro Football Focus named Jones as a player who appears to be on the verge of cementing their status as an elite player in the league.

“In 2017, Jones allowed just 5.44 yards per target and 0.74 yards per snap in coverage, ranking fourth and seventh among off-ball linebackers with at least 200 coverage snaps, respectively,” PFF’s Austin Gayle writes. “He also earned a 94.8 coverage grade for his efforts last season, which led all qualifying linebackers.
“Jones’ ability to impact the passing game from the linebacker position is unparalleled, and now having earned 81.3-plus overall grades in each of the past two seasons, his place among the NFL’s elite off-ball linebackers can be cemented with another outstanding performance in 2018.”

While Jones’ play in coverage has been superb for the Falcons, he’s also proven to be a rangy, sideline-to-sideline tackler who is an effective three-down linebacker. Jones has also shown a flair for making big plays in critical moments, most recently intercepting Drew Brees in the end zone to clinch a Falcons victory over their rival on Thursday Night Football in 2017.
In his two NFL seasons, Jones has recorded 244 tackles, 21 pass defenses, six interceptions and scored two touchdowns.

Three former Falcons players crack top 10 for best multi-sport athletes

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 What do Deion Sanders, Tony Gonzalez and Brian Jordan all have in common?

Yes, of course, you know that they’ve all played for the Atlanta Falcons.

What else do they have in common? Yep, they were all multi-sport athletes, too. I’m sure you knew that one as well.

They have at least one more thing in common. Can you guess?

All three of those guys cracked Jason Lisk’s top 10 best multi-sport athletes list, which you can read all about here. Lisk, the managing editor at The Big Lead, was apparently inspired to comprise his top-10 list after viewing this tweet:
So, what’s the criteria for making such an exclusive list? While there have been lots of athletes to play multiple sports at different levels, Lisk limited this list to “modern” guys who played professional sports since 1960, “when things like professionalism in the major sports and integration became more common.” As he also notes, don’t expect to see trailblazers like Jackie Robinson or Jim Thorpe on it.

Lisk’s criteria was relatively simple: find athletes who excelled at multiple sports and reached the pinnacle of at least one.

“You won’t find guys who just scraped by in multiple sports here,” Lisk writes. 

And no, Tim Tebow did not make Lisk’s list.
No. 2 Deion Sanders
Not surprisingly, Sanders comes in fairly high on this list – just behind Bo Jackson. Sanders, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of high school, went on to Florida State. In Tallahassee, “Primetime” played baseball, ran track, and was a two-time All-American in football.

“From 1989 to 1995, Deion Sanders played in both the MLB and the NFL each season,” Lisk writes. “He appeared in the World Series and the Super Bowl. He never played in 100 MLB regular-season games in a year because of his football commitments but made All-Pro six times (only interrupted by his first year in Dallas, when he only played in nine games due to baseball) and is considered one of the best cornerbacks of all-time.”
No. 8 Brian Jordan
“Brian Jordan was a starting safety for the Atlanta Falcons when he walked away from the NFL after three seasons to focus exclusively on baseball,” Lisk writes. “It worked, as Jordan would go on to have a 15-year MLB career as an outfielder and finished top 20 in MVP voting in three different seasons.”
No. 9 Tony Gonzalez
“Tony Gonzalez played both basketball and football at the University of California,” Lisk writes. “He averaged over 6 points a game during three seasons of basketball and was an All-American in football. He will go down as the top tight end of all-time, making 14 Pro Bowls and having more receiving yards than any other tight end in history.”

How the Falcons offensive line compared to other NFL teams in pass-blocking efficiency

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The Falcons’ offensive line is among the most underrated units on the team. For the casual fans, it can be hard to quantify the performance of an offensive line, but that’s where Pro Football Focus comes into play.
The analytics site tracks every player one every play of every game throughout the course of an NFL season, and they recently released their ranking of each team’s pass-blocking efficiency – the number of pressures allowed on a per-snap basis. In this measurement, the Falcons’ offensive line ranked 12th among the 32 NFL teams with a pass-blocking efficiency grade of 79.7.

“The Falcons offensive line took a small step back in 2017 and allowed 18 sacks, 32 hits and 98 hurries on their 568 passing plays,” PFF’s Mark Chichester writes. “Throughout the year, the Falcons saw good pass-blocking performances from guard Andy Levitre, who ranked 13th among guards with a PBE of 97.6, right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who ranked sixth among tackles with a PBE of 97.1, and center Alex Mack, who ranked 14th among centers with a PBE of 97.9. Heading into the 2018 season, the new addition of Brandon Fusco could prove to be an upgrade for the team at right guard as Fusco’s PBE of 96.5 bettered the marks of fellow Falcons guards Wes Schweitzer (96.0) and Ben Garland (92.9) last year.”
Led by Mack, the Falcons have a veteran offensive line that returns every starter from last season. They should also benefit from the addition of guard Brandon Fusco, who has started 80 games in his career and is familiar with the Falcons’ outside zone scheme.

Fusco’s arrival also helps the Falcons’ depth on the offensive line. If he slots into the starting right guard position, previous starter Wes Schweitzer will become a capable backup on the interior of the line alongside Ben Garland, a very versatile lineman with quality starting experience.

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