John Fricke takes an advance look at the Atlanta Falcons at the positional level. This examination is on the defensive line as training camp begins in 28 days.
Coach: Jeff Ulbrich – Linebackers Coach
Camp Depth Chart
SLB: De’Vondre Campbell, J’Terius Jones, Jermaine Grace
MLB: Deion Jones, LaRoy Reynolds, Jack Lynn
WLB: Duke Riley, Josh Keyes
*** Kemal Ishmael
Any discussion of the Falcons linebacker corps starts with Deion Jones. The second-year pro out of LSU is coming off a stunning rookie campaign. Jones led the club (and all NFL rookie defenders) in total tackles with 108. He also broke up 11 passes and picked off three for 165 yards. Two of those picks he took back to the house for touchdowns. Jones was named First-Team NFL All-Rookie. He has been highlighted by many preseason publications as the new breed of linebacker set to dominate the game. Smaller, more agile, and explosive.
At 6-foot-4 and 230-plus pounds, De’Vondre Campbell is a more prototypical linebacker. Alongside his fellow rookie Jones, Campbell showed flashes of big play potential in his first season. Campbell started 10 games in the regular season and recorded 48 tackles with seven passes broken up and an interception. This year Campbell likely flips to the strong side of the field to take better advantage of his size and strength.
The youth movement continues at this position with the drafting of LSU’s Duke Riley in the third round. Riley was a teammate of Jones in Baton Rouge and was voted LSU’s defensive MVP. He was the second fastest linebacker at the NFL draft combine. Riley recorded 93 tackles in his senior season and is slotted to start at the weakside position in his rookie campaign.
LaRoy Reynolds is a veteran in this young group. Reynolds enters his fifth NFL season after behind a key contributor last season. He played in all 16 games recording 30 tackles and was a key member on special teams.
Kemal Ishmael spent some time at linebacker in 2016 (moving up from safety) and is expected to help bolster this unit in multiple spots this season. Ishmael could see starting time as a linebacker and help him increase the 52 tackles he logged last season. Ishmael has also record 11 pass breakups and five interceptions in his four seasons in Atlanta.
This is a fast, athletic and still young group at this spot. Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich has, what could be, a dynamic group of potential game changers at this spot.