Before we turn all of our thoughts toward free agency, the NFL Draft and the 2016 season. Breaking Burgundy will put a bow on the Washington Redskins NFC East-winning 2015 campaign, player report card style. Peter Hailey on the highlights, lowlights and what the immediate future holds for all members of the Burgundy and Gold though he took a more expanded look at...
Player: Matt Jones
Position: Running back
Contract status: Signed through 2018
Preseason buzz: Power compliment to Alfred Morris and future starter
Ended 2015 as...: missed final three games with a hip injury
When it comes to Alfred Morris, it looks like a matter of when, not if, the Redskins let him walk in free agency. And when that happens, Matt Jones will be in line to be the team’s new starter at running back.
That’s not good, and the franchise should not let that be the case for very long. That's because the Florida product is not suited for the primary job.
Jones is undoubtedly a talented guy — he produced a few very flashy highlights in 2015, including his 78-yard touchdown catch against the Saints and his first career score against the Rams, a 39-yarder. Yet those big plays didn’t come often enough.
The 22-year-old had 144 rushing attempts in his rookie season, and only produced 490 yards; that’s a 3.4 yards-per-carry clip, an unacceptably low number. Sure, there’s an argument to be made that he can learn, that it was just his first professional season. An offseason of film review and coaching plus overall maturation will help him find holes easier and boost his numbers. That’s all fine. But take a look at his NFL Draft profile from NFL.com, and see if this sounds familiar:
"More grinder than every-down running back. Will hit it downhill, but has very little feel for maximizing run creases. Blind to open running lanes. Drops head and burrows into blockers and defenders rather than seeing open space.”
In other words, this has been something he’s struggled with ever since his college days — he’s about as powerful as they come at the position, but he’s had a few years to learn how to look for space and refine his approach, and it hasn’t clicked yet. It sure could soon, but honestly, it should have already.
In addition, Jones has dealt with some injury issues in the past. Those bumps and bruises likely continue, if not increase, should he step into the main role as starter. Last year, he missed three games because of a couple different ailments, and only played five games as a sophomore at Florida in 2013 because of a torn meniscus.
We’ve seen players shake the injury bug — look no further than Jordan Reed. But there’s an argument to be made that no other position on the football field takes as much punishment as a running back. And once you throw in how Jones runs — through the line and not around it, finishing every sequence with his head down fighting for extra yards — then you start to see why more bumps and bruises, as well as some “Did Not Plays,” could very well show up as long as he’s in the NFL.
To put it simply: A starting tailback needs to be available for all 16 contests. That duty may be too tall for Jones.
Now, this is not to slight the second-year pro at all. As was pointed out earlier, there were a few times where he just made you say, “Wow” in his debut campaign. But they didn’t come enough, and sometimes, they didn’t come at all, because he was on the sidelines in sweats.
The place where Jones would thrive most is as part of a rotation, similar to the role he had for the Burgundy and Gold before. That way, he’d stay fresh, come in off the bench after the starter had done some damage, and be able to gash defenses six or seven yards at a time. If Washington's offense can find someone more effective than Morris for that primary role, whether in the draft or free agency, then Jones would truly benefit.
Everyone in the NFL has a role, and there’s definitely one for someone with as much strength, potential and athleticism as Jones. Starting isn’t it, however. The Redskins would be wise to make sure it doesn’t come to that.
Follow Peter Hailey on Twitter at @barelyin.
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