When Deion Jones was a rookie, veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon offered some advice that would change his life.
Weatherspoon, a former first-round draft pick, explained to Jones that in order to be a successful middle linebacker in the NFL, maintaining a level head is imperative.
"If you never get too high, you never get too low," Weatherspoon said. "It's never going to be as good as you think it is when you leave the field and it's never going to be as bad as you think it is. You want to be where your feet are. You can see he takes that approach."
Jones, 25, has instilled this advice in his everyday approach and has become a well-respected linebacker in a short period of time because of it. As an undersized second-round pick out of LSU, Jones has not only become one of the best players in the Falcons' defense, he's now taken on a leadership role as first-time team captain.
And even though he'll have more responsibility than he's ever had before in leading the Falcons' defense in a critical season, nothing will change when it comes to Jones and his mentality. While he certainly understands the importance of his role, he knows keeping the same mindset as he's had the last four seasons is what will make him the best version of himself.
"It's a huge honor," Jones said. "I'm just trying to not overthink it and just keep playing my role with this team. Keep being a vocal leader, keep flying around and putting good stuff on film."
Ove the past four seasons, Jones' impact in Atlanta's defense has been palpable. That's why the Falcons rewarded him with a four-year contract extension worth a reported $57 million, with $34 million of it guaranteed ahead of the 2019 season.
Jones has transitioned from the "bright-eyed kid" Weatherspoon and the Falcons saw in 2016 to a player opposing offensive coordinators take note of because of his ability to make plays. In 53 games, Jones has recorded 409 tackles, nine interceptions, six quarterback hits, four defensive touchdowns and two forced fumbles.
He'd likely have even more splash plays on his resume had he not missed the majority of the 2018 season with a foot injury that he suffered in Week 1 that placed him on injured reserve for 10 games. Without Jones in the starting lineup, Atlanta's defense struggled to replace his production. There was no better example of this when Jones recorded 15 tackles, one sack and one quarterback hit in his first game back from injury against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 2, 2018.
In many ways, he's changed how his position is played in today's game. Jones showed that not only are linebackers expected to come downhill and stop the run, they should also be able assets against the pass. Jones has become an every-down player for Atlanta and it's why he's invaluable.
"He's done a hell of a job playing the ball," Weatherspoon said. "I think that's what really put him on the scene. Making those plays in coverage to win the game, to get off the field on third down and that's something that linebackers should take pride and not being a liability in coverage. I think that's what makes him a great linebacker, that he can be out there on the field for every down. That's the only way to play linebacker if you ask me. He's right there on the cusp of doing something really special."
From the moment he arrived in Atlanta, Jones' coaches and teammates knew the skill set he possessed was unique. But what made Jones different was his ability to accept leadership from players like Paul Worrilow and Weatherspoon and apply it to his game.
Fast-forward four years, Jones is the player now giving the advice and leading his group. And this is why coach Dan Quinn knew Jones was ready to become one of his six captains. Jones joins Grady Jarrett, Ricardo Allen, Julio Jones, Alex Mack and Matt Ryan as the team's core leaders for the 2020 season.
"I would say really it [started] in the offseason," Quinn said. "From the time the guys started going through things, even when the rookies were added, him taking the extra time to make sure he was leading a guy like Mykal (Walker). Those moments painted the things that I was looking for. It just really continued on when we came back into camp for [the] veterans. Those moments really told me he's ready for a bigger leadership role on the team and he's certainly earned it."
Jones knows in order for the Falcons' defense to be the unit it wants and needs to be, his performance each week will be significant. The Falcons hope Jones' game-winning interception returned for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season to close out the year gives him momentum heading into what is a critical season.
After back-to-back 7-9 seasons, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has made it clear that he expects his team to make the playoffs. And Jones' play and leadership will be essential in making that happen.
"The next step for him is to really relish in this leadership role, to where when he speaks it always comes out the right way," Weatherspoon said. "The guys he's lining up with need to know he means business. Not only [does his play need to be] on a different level, even just the way he's seeing things and the way he's helping his teammates with things they might need help with. Just like he did when he was a younger player."
Your 2020 Atlanta Falcons Team Captains: Quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, center Alex Mack, safety Ricardo Allen, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones.