By Jacob Troxell, special to Breaking Burgundy
After two performances of over 130 yards in three weeks, Matt Jones looked like the sure fire lead dog in the Redskins’ backfield going forward. Against the Cleveland Browns Week 4, Jones rushed for 117 yards on 22 carries and then 135 on the ground in six less carries. Both Performances included a rushing touchdown and Jones finished with just under 20 fantasy points.
Then Week 7 happened.
Jones fumbled twice and one of those fumbles was in the redzone, costing the Redskins points that perhaps would have changed the outcome of the game. Then he suffered a knee injury that will keep him off the field at least one week.
It’s not the first time Jones has had a case of the fumbles, as he did so five times in 13 games last season. Following the loss, Gruden said Jones should understand the importance of carrying the ball and that fumbling cannot remain an issue. Gruden also said it may be time for Kelley and Thompson’s roles to be expanded, although Gruden cites Thompson’s size (5’8”, 195 lbs) as a reason why they might not give him a full workload.
While Jones eventually did come back into Sunday’s game, both backup running backs Chris Thompson and Robert Kelley took a few of Jones’ snaps on Sunday. Thompson rushed for a career-high 73 yards on 12 carries while also reeling in seven catches for 40 yards, 11.3 points in standard scoring leagues. Kelley only rushed for 15 yards on four carries, but caught a one-yard touchdown pass to give him 7.6 points on the day in standard scoring. With 27 yards on 10 carries and one fumble lost, Jones had his lowest fantasy output of the year, just 0.7 points.
So who should fantasy owners have in their lineups moving forward? There are a few options to consider depending on your Week 8 fantasy situation.
The first thing to note here is that it seems like the Redskins are set on having Thompson as their receiving and third down back. Ever since Kelley starting getting a few carries each game in Week 3, Thompson’s usage has gone up also (averaged three carries in first two weeks, averaging 6.4 since Week 3.
It seems that unless there is a clear lead dog in the Redskins backfield, Thompson will grab a few extra carries in the process. These extra carries are the shove owners in PPR leagues need in order to have the confidence to start him, as he is averaging just over 3 catches and 26 reception yards each contest. Thompson is only five receptions behind Desean Jackson and eight behind Pierre Garcon this season.
With Robert Kelley starting Week 8, Thompson may also see a few early down carries, as the Redskins will probably give their undrafted rookie, who has 17 career rushing attempts a few breathers here and there.
PPR league fantasy verdict: Thompson is a solid RB2 option unless one guy takes over as the main back.
So now the tougher question remains, what to do in standard scoring leagues. As far as the long term, as mentioned before, Jones did come back into the game after fumbling twice, which is an encouraging sign for Jones owners. The only reason Jones could possibly completely lose his job is if he continues to fumble. He controls his own destiny. Many see Kelley as his future successor. The rookie is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, but aside from a 45-yard run against Philadelphia, just 3.6 yards per carry this season.
Another promising sign for Jones owners should be how the Redskins handled their backfield last year and what they did in free agency. Gruden gave Jones carries even after he fumbled in two of his first three games, cutting into Alfred Morris’ rushing attempts all season long. The Redskins then let Morris walk in free agency to a division opponent.Gruden obviously has shown a lot of patience for the 2015 third-round pick. To throw him to the side now for an undrafted rookie, albeit, one that has run fairly strong this season, would be pretty shocking.
Whether Jones should be the lead back for the Redskins is a different discussion, but Gruden likes Jones, who is still averaging 4.6 yards per carry, fifth in the NFL of backs with 99 rushing attempts or more. For Week 8 however, Jones will not be suiting up due to a knee injury, so Robert Kelley will get his first career start in the NFL. While we may see Chris Thompson in a few early down situations, Kelley can be counted on to get the majority of snaps on Sunday against the 24 th ranked Cincinnati Bengals rush defense. A low-end RB2 play is reasonable for Kelley, who should get all the goal line snaps with Jones, the Redskins other big back out. Kelley may not carry your lineup to victory this weekend, but a solid 55 yards rushing and one touchdown will get owners just over 11 points in standard scoring leagues.
With the Redskins on a bye Week 9, and facing a stout Vikings rush defense Week 10, owners in need of a short term fix should not feel bad dropping Jones for Kelley, especially if Kelley runs well against Cincinnati and a running back by committee breaks out. For those lucky owners who already have a large lead in the standings and are not wanting to risk losing Jones, especially because of the possibility of a late season surge, that is understandable too. Whether you pick up Kelley this week or not should depend on how desperate owners are in need of a Week 8 victory.
However, if Jones fumbles again in a costly situation, Kelley could start to grab more than half of the first and second down snaps.
Standard scoring fantasy verdict: If you need to make up some ground in your league, add Kelley as an RB2 this week, but just know Jones will probably have to ride your bench through Week 10 if held on to. Kelley is owned in just 1.1 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.