Matt Jones received a lot of preseason buzz as a rookie last year and following his 146-yard explosion in Week 2, he appeared to be living up to the hype. But that was the apex of his first-year success. Injuries and five fumbles on just 144 carries really did him in. While he handled the ball 22 times in that game versus St. Louis, Jones would receive 20 touches in just one of his 12 other games. He averaged just 3.40 yards per carry, the worst rate among qualified running backs. And if you omit his Week 2 performance, that average drops to an abysmal 2.93.
Jones ended 2015 as fantasy's No. 40 running back. So can he move all the way up into the top 20 in 2016? The Washington Redskins' coaches seemingly want to give him a legitimate chance. Offensive coordinator Sean McVay said earlier this month that Jones has got "the skills and the traits that you are looking for in an every-down back."
While that seems like a bit of an exaggeration -- don't forget the cases of fumblitis, and he does not have great vision for open running lanes -- Jones is the only back on the roster who comes anywhere close to fitting that bill. Alfred Morris is in Dallas. Chris Thompson is your typical shifty, undersized receiving back. Seventh-round rookie Keith Marshall is a size-speed talent, but his collegiate numbers state he hasn't fully recovered from a 2013 ACL tear. Mack Brown is around for practice squad depth, and that's it. No one else is blocking Jones from taking over the Redskins' backfield. His own body and ball security might be his greatest obstacles.
Toe and hip injuries caused him to miss four games last season, including Washington's playoff game versus the Packers. Plus, Jones also underwent reportedly minor groin surgery this offseason. The fumbling issues can be fixed -- names such as Tiki Barber and Adrian Peterson come to mind when recalling players who dramatically lessened their fumble troubles -- but the injuries give Jones a significant amount of risk. A knee injury finished his 2013 season at the University of Florida, and with all of the damage he sustained during one limited NFL campaign, it makes you wonder if Jones can hold up.
Again, the Redskins hope he can. They are practically betting he will given the team's lack of running back depth. That faith makes Jones, for all of his warts, a very appealing fantasy prospect. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Jones is coming off the board on average as the 22nd RB, the first pick of the fifth round in 12-team formats.
That seems fair. However, Jones' ceiling is higher. Just as an athlete, we're talking about a 6-foot-2, 230-pound player who fights through tackles. He won't light the turf on fire, but Jones displayed relatively good elusiveness last year, and he comes packing a punch. He really is not the perfect three-down back, but neither was Alfred Morris, and Washington helped turn him into a top-15 fantasy back in standard leagues from 2012-14.
Granted, Morris is a much better natural runner than Jones, but the latter has more power, quickness and versatility. Jones caught 19 passes in 13 games last year; Morris' most receptions in four seasons with the Redskins was 17. Jones should easily accrue 30 receptions or more if he stays on the field this year. He obviously needs to pick up his YPC average. If he can reach 4 yards per carry -- 31 backs who logged at least 100 carries last season reached that plateau -- 1,000 rushing yards is all but assured because Jones should receive 15-20 carries per week. Add in his contributions in the passing game and the fact that he's made for goal-line work and, yeah, you have a running back who can jump into the top-20 at his position. Top-15 would not be out of the conversation.
For Jones, it all comes down to holding onto the ball and injury luck. Everything else should take care of itself, because the Redskins give the impression that they really want him to be their ground leader.
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