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Steelers Analysis & Film Study

Farabaugh: ILB Help? The Steelers Should Sign Deion Jones



Steelers Deion Jones

The Steelers have some questions left at inside linebacker. After flipping the entire room and bringing in Elandon Roberts, Cole Holcomb, Tanner Muse, and others, there still is no crucial answer for the team for their coverage linebacker.

Yesterday, when I suggested who the team could look at to sign, I said that I still viewed coverage linebacker as the most concerning position on the team. Yes, edge rusher depth as well as slot cornerback could be argued in that place as well. But Chandon Sullivan, Nick Herbig, and DeMarvin Leal give you some more concrete answers there whereas the coverage linebacker does not have that answer.

Now, maybe their dime linebacker answer is Keanu Neal, who has played both safety and linebacker in his career. However, I think Neal could be a nice fit for the dimebacker position. Not just that, the team has some thin linebacker depth no matter how you look at it on paper.

So, I scoured the market to see who could realistically be an option. There is Kwon Alexander, who is a coverage specialist in his own right. That tape is inconsistent, but the less he played and the more he played in the specialized role with the Jets, the better he played. So, that could be an option, but given he left the Steelers facility without a contract, I have my doubts this comes to fruition.

The more I looked, the more I thought it was a barren wasteland aside from him. That was until I stumbled upon Deion Jones’ tape. He could not really be that good still, right? At this stage in his career, what is Jones as a football player after all the injuries he has suffered?

Jones joined the Browns midseason last year and his first few games were rough. There were considerable signs of rust, but it was the late-season tape that I loved from him. The Browns played a 4-3 with Jones manning the MIKE LB position. That is directly comparable to Pittsburgh’s MACK LB position or dime linebacker in terms of third-down responsibilities. I thought the run defense was hit or miss, but Jones has the coverage chops still.

This is just one rep but it really struck home just what Jones has left in the tank. His athleticism is still there and his coverage instincts are really good, as they always have been. Not many guys can carry the seam this well in Tampa 2, and that is something that Pittsburgh does work themselves into at times with their dime linebacker.

Last year, Jones played 37 snaps in the slot and allowed a modest 88.1 passer rating in coverage in 246 coverage snaps throughout the year. Those numbers got better down the stretch. From Week 12 onward when Jones hit his stride, he only allowed 9 receptions on 18 targets, not allowing a touchdown and only 73 yards over those weeks. The numbers and tape are solid from about that point onward and worth a shot.

So, I would argue with consistently good tape in coverage that Jones makes sense as a cheap option. I really think this hyper-specialization of the room would not only be good for the defense at large but help Roberts settle into his two-down thumper role. It allows Teryl Austin and Mike Tomlin to devise gameplans that fit their inside linebackers the best. I’m not sure they will ever lose a game because of their inside linebackers right now, but that room is still missing an ingredient. Jones could be just that.

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