Is Matt Jones a Threat to Alfred Morris?

After being a surprise third-round selection for the Redskins, will Matt Jones supplant Alfred Morris as the starter in Washington?

Matt Jones was always more talented than his production let on, but when the Washington Redskins took him in the third round of the draft ahead of bigger name backs like Jay Ajayi, Jeremy Langford, Mike Davis, and Buck Allen, it certainly turned a few heads.

The Florida back was one of the more heralded prospects that former head coach Will Muschamp reeled in during his tumultuous run for the Gators, yet he annually failed to deliver as the featured power back that the team so desperately wanted.

Jones’ three-year Gator career saw him fail to top 900 yards in a single season as injuries and inconsistent line and quarterback play stunted his potential. Still, there were often flashes of greatness both as a runner and as a receiver, flashes that clearly led to the Redskins’ taking a chance much earlier than most expected, flashes like a 192-yard explosion against the rival Georgia Bulldogs last season, or a 176-yard performance against Kentucky in 2013.

As a freshman, he sealed the Gators’ victory against a talented Florida State defense with a 32-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to finish with 81 yards on only 8 rushing attempts. He consistently showcased both the power you would expect for a 6’2’’, 231-pound back and also outstanding agility and quickness for a player his size.

And while he wasn’t utilized often as a receiver, he demonstrated soft hands and, even more impressive for a college player, an ability to pass protect that allows him to project as a three-down back.

This is also a player who has almost identical measurables to a pretty good NFL runner named Le'Veon Bell. If he can stay healthy for a full season, Jones could prove to be a steal in this talented class of backs. In fact, his combine comparisons reveal a bevy of talented players.

YearNameHghtWght40 ydBnchVertBroad
2014Jeremy Hill6' 1"2334.662029"113"
2015Matt Jones6' 2"2314.612031½"112"
2013Le'Veon Bell6' 1"2304.62431½"118"
2009Rashad Jennings6' 1"2314.592934"120"
2001Anthony Thomas6' 2"2294.582032½" 
2011Anthony Allen6' 1"2284.562441½"120"
2003Larry Johnson6' 1"2284.5519  
2009Chris Wells6' 1"2354.522533½"128"

Powerful, big running backs who can run and explode through contact and move the chains are important commodities in the NFL. As defenses have gotten smaller to compensate for the pass oriented and fast offenses in the league, it has opened the door for powerful and versatile players like Bell, Marshawn Lynch, and Arian Foster to dominate against undersized teams.

With a lot of tread left on his tires after only 297 collegiate carries, this is a player who may have his best football in front of him. But how does he fit in Washington?

Jones in Washington

Incumbent starter Alfred Morris and the Redskins struggled to run the ball efficiently in 2014. After an outstanding 1,600-yard rookie season in the Shanahan and Sons running back friendly system, Alf regressed each of the following two seasons as the offense collapsed around him. I’m looking at you, RGIII.

In terms of Net Expected Points, or NEP, our in-house metric that compares a player or team’s production to league expectation level, the team ranked 14th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play (-0.01). This mediocre running game likely led to the team unexpectedly drafting offensive lineman Brandon Scherff with the fifth overall pick in the draft, a player many regarded as the best lineman and run blocker in the nation last year.

As an individual, Morris’ Rushing NEP per play was -0.04, which put him in the same ballpark as Frank Gore (-0.06) and Joique Bell (-0.03) for backs with more than 200 carries. Morris ranked 14th in per-play Rushing NEP among the 17 backs with at least 200 carries in 2014.

His yards per carry dropped from 4.8 as a rookie to 4.1 in his third season as he finished with a career low 1,074 rushing yards.

That being said, Jay Gruden has already tempered expectations and declared that Morris won’t be affected by Matt Jones in 2015. But with the former sixth-round pick set to hit free agency at the end of the 2015 season, one has to wonder if the Redskins really want to pay top dollar a player who doesn’t contribute in the passing game (only 37 career receptions) and lacks special talent.

Morris is a good player who excels when running downhill and breaking tackles, but he is far from an ideal fit for the pass-oriented attack that head coach Gruden prefers to run.

While Jones will likely play the Roy Helu passing downs role in 2015, his versatility and youth could earn him a starting role in 2016. Dynasty owners should take notice and not allow the presence of the established Alfred Morris block them from selecting Jones in their rookie drafts. It may sound crazy, but perhaps the Redskins knew what they were doing when they surprised us all by picking Jones.