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Early Bird Report 3/5: Falcons LB Deion Jones paved way for prospects like Roquan Smith

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith's thoughts on Deion Jones paving the way as well as news that the Steelers are expected to franchise tag Le'Veon Bell.



*AJC: *Roquan Smith fits new NFL prototype for middle linebacker

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones has become a star after just two seasons in the NFL. With sideline-to-sideline speed and a knack for making big plays, Jones now appears to be the future at a position that has long valued power over speed. His ascension has made it easier for other prospects who have been labeled "undersized."

Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith is one such prospect whose size and skillset would have made him a risk in the eyes of NFL teams. Now, he's seen as one of the top players in the draft. Speaking with D. Orlando Ledbetter of *The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, *Smith explained that Jones is one player he studies.

"I definitely watch Deion Jones," Smith told Ledbetter. "He plays for the Atlanta Falcons and from Athens, Georgia it's not very far. Actually, just being able to watch a guy like that who came into the league and was labeled as undersized and, you know, he fought against a lot of obstacles and went over them and got through it. So he's done a lot of good things for the Falcons. And made a Pro Bowl this year. So that speaks for itself."

The comparisons between Jones and Smith have become a common talking point when discussing the Georgia prospect's future. During the combine, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock shared his thoughts on the Butkus Award winner.

"I love Roquan Smith," he said. "I think he's today's NFL off-the-ball linebacker and it's mostly about speed. He's 225 pounds. Deion Jones was drafted in the second round in Atlanta two years ago. He's the prototype. I think Roquan Smith takes it a step farther. A very similar type guy. I love the way he plays."

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BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFL Steelers expected to tag Le'Veon Bell

Despite their best efforts, it appears as though the Pittsburgh Steelers won't be able to reach an agreement with star running back Le'Veon Bell on a long-term deal. According to's Kevin Patra, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that the Steelers are expected to use their franchise tag on Bell prior to Tuesday's league deadline for applying the tag.

It would be the second tag in as many seasons for Bell, and it would pay him $14.544 million in 2018. Bell, of course, would have to agree to pay under the tag, which was a sticking point last year, as he sat out the duration of offseason workouts. If the tag is applied, the Steelers still have until July 16 to get a long-term deal with Bell ironed out.

Bell gained 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns on 321 carries and added 85 catches for 655 yards and a pair of scores last season.  

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