Tabeek's roster predictions: Falcons linebackers

Several positions are up for grabs but here's an early guess at how the Atlanta Falcons' 53-man roster could look heading into 2020

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

When Deion Jones is on top of his game, the Falcons defense plays at another level.

While Jones managed to play a full season in 2019 after playing just six games the year before due to injury, the Falcons defense didn't find its groove until midway through the season. If the Falcons hope to pick up where they left off down the stretch – going 6-2, including a 4-0 run to finish – Jones and Co. will need to be leading the charge.

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Jones, who is one of the fastest and most instinctive linebackers in the league, registered 110 total tackles (68 solo), eight tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, one interception return for a touchdown, one fumble recovery and five passes defensed in 2019.

While Foye Oluokun, a third-year player from Yale who continues to improve, returns with Jones to the Falcons linebacker corps, the unit will be without De'Vondre Campbell for the first time in four seasons. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Campbell was the team's leading tackler in each of the past two seasons.

Who will make up the rest of this unit in 2020 and how many linebackers will the Falcons keep on the initial roster?

OVERVIEW

The playmaker: When it comes to playmakers on the Falcons defense, you'd have to start with Deion Jones. And for proof, look no further than the final game of last season when he intercepted Jameis Winston and ran it back 27 yards for a game-winning touchdown in overtime. It marked his fourth career pick-six, becoming the only player in the NFL with at least four interceptions returned for touchdowns since 2016. Jones also became the seventh player with a game-winning interception return for a touchdown in overtime since 2002 and the first since 2015.

Steady improvement: Foye Oluokun, a former sixth-round pick, was pressed into action as a rookie in 2018 when Deion Jones was injured and landed on injured reserve. The Yale product finished second on the team with 89 tackles and earned a coverage grade of at least 70 from Pro Football Focus in five of his final 10 games. In 2019, PFF gave Oluokun an overall defensive grade above 80 four different times, including a sterling grade of 90.6 vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Overall, his PFF grade of 62.7 was the second-highest among Falcons linebackers last season and tied for 37th among all NFL linebackers.

A nose for the ball: One player who stood out during training camp was rookie linebacker Mykal Walker. The Fresno State product has picked off passes, come up with tipped balls or batted down passes in a number of practices. That's good news for the turnover-challenged Falcons and their fourth-round pick.

Added versatility: The Falcons love players with versatility on defense and that's exactly what Deone Bucannon brings to the table. A first-round pick in 2014, the 6-foot-1 and 211-pound Bucannon was originally drafted as a safety coming out of Washington State. However, for the majority of his time with the Arizona Cardinals (2014-18), Bucannon played inside linebacker and thrived there, especially from 2015-17, when he started 41 games, recorded 285 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 10 pass defenses, five forced fumbles and two interceptions. The Falcons want to affect the quarterback more in 2020 by being able to move players around and disguising coverages. Having players like Bucannon should help.

RECENT HISTORY

Here are the number of linebackers the Falcons have kept in previous seasons on the initial roster:

LOCKS
Here are the players who I think are locks to make the team (i.e., starters and key reserves) unless something unforeseen should happen (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Deone Bucannon
  • Deion Jones
  • Foyesade Oluokun
  • Mykal Walker

ON THE BUBBLE

Here are the players who I think are still in the mix to make the team, could land on the practice squad or will be released (listed in alphabetical order):

  • LaRoy Reynolds
  • Edmond Robinson

PREDICTION

  • 2020 roster forecast: 5 linebackers

Tabeek's Take: Like in 2019, I think the Falcons will go with five linebackers once again in 2020. Outside of the five locks I've listed above – Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, Deone Bucannon and rookie Mykal Walker – I think you have to put LaRoy Reynolds on this roster. Reynolds not only brings confidence, energy and a certain swag to the field, he's a well-respected teammate in the locker room. And aside from those intangible qualities, Reynolds has played well in training camp.

  • Deion Jones
  • Foyesade Oluokun
  • Deone Bucannon
  • Mykal Walker
  • LaRoy Reynolds

PREDICTING THE 53-MAN ROSTER

A look at roster battle at the linebacker position.The views and opinions represented here and in the corresponding article belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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