A year ago, Deion Jones had started one college football game, never finished a single game with more than five tackles and never sacked a quarterback.
On Friday night, surrounded by friends and family at his aunt’s home in Harvey, the kid they call “Debo” became an instant millionaire – and a dirty bird, too.
The Atlanta Falcons selected the former LSU linebacker with the 21st pick – 52nd overall – in the second round of the NFL draft, eliciting a mad celebration from the more than 50 gathered at Shelly Hall’s home in this New Orleans suburb.
“I am dirty,” Jones’ father, Cal, said after the selection while sitting next to his son. “I’m a dirty bird!”
That didn’t last long. Minutes later, one of Deion’s relatives thought of a new name for this family.
“We’re Debo Birds!”
Jones, a 6-foot-1, 222-pounder, became the first LSU player selected in the 2016 draft – an impressive feat for a guy who served as a backup until his senior year last season. He broke onto the scene in 2015, leading LSU with 100 tackles as the Tigers’ weak-side linebacker.
His stock climbed over the last four months, too.
The ex-Jesuit standout excelled during the week at the Senior Bowl in January, performed well at the NFL combine in February and, in March, then ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash time – nearly unheard of for a linebacker – at LSU’s pro day.
The speedster entered his senior year known more for his prowess on special teams. He was dubbed “The War Daddy” by some LSU players for his vicious hits on the kickoff team.
Turns out, he can tackle on defense, too. Kwon Alexander’s early departure to the NFL draft opened the door last year for Jones’ starting role.
“He wasn’t even on the radar going into (the 2015 season),” ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper said on ESPN’s telecast after the selection.
Jones spent Friday watching from a gray sectional couch, flanked by agent Jason Rosenhaus and his mother, Tahonas – all of them watching a 50-plus inch Panasonic blaring ESPN’s coverage to more than 30 people shoved in the room. An ESPN camera, positioned on a tripod in the middle of the living area, focused on Jones. His reaction to the selection aired on the network in tape delay.
More than 50 family members and friends roared, collapsing upon the ex-Tiger.
According to spotrac.com, the projected signing bonus for that selection is $1.6 million – quite the boost for this family. Deion’s father, Cal, drove a taxi cab in New Orleans for more than a decade before getting a job with his neighbor’s electrical and AC company. His mother is a Subway restaurant manager.
About 10 minutes before the pick was announced on the ESPN telecast, Jones got the call from the Falcons.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) April 30, 2016
Before that, it was relaxed but anxious in the home off Destrehan Avenue. Rosenhaus, brother to Drew Rosenhaus, warned Jones and family of the potential for a long, nerve-filled night ahead.
“It’s going to be a ride. Buckle in,” he said just before ESPN’s coverage began. “You’re most likely to go in the middle of the second to the middle of the third.”
Members of the family bowed their heads moments later for a prayer – a move Rosehaus suggested.
By 7 p.m., a fourth linebacker was selected in the first 11 picks of the second round. None of them were Jones. Rosenhaus kept positive on the couch, phone in one hand and a blue ink pen in another as he jotted notes on a yellow pad.
At 7:40 p.m., Jones and Rosenhaus received near simultaneous phone calls – he was off to the Falcons.
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