It's Time to Temper Expectations for Marvin Jones in 2015

After a great 2013 season and missing all of 2014 with an injury, Marvin Jones will be fighting an uphill battle in 2015.

Marvin Jones had an excellent season in 2013 when he put up 51 receptions for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns.

From an efficiency standpoint, he was even more impressive, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which is our signature metric that measures how a player's performance on any given play affects his team's expected point total. He recorded 1.02 Reception NEP per target, good for second in the league among receivers with 50 or more targets. This was one of only 11 times a receiver has had a Reception NEP per target over 1.00 in the last five seasons.

Such numbers had him on a lot of peoples' radars as a candidate for a huge breakout season in 2014.

The hype train was slowed down when he underwent foot surgery during the preseason, and after attempting and failing to return for the Bengals' Week 5 game, he was placed on the injured reserve and didn't see a single snap on the year.

While there is some buzz surrounding Jones heading into the 2015 season, it would be wise to temper our expectations a bit, as the odds are stacked against a breakout year for Jones.

Jones' Competition

It would be no real surprise if Jones started the year behind Mohammed Sanu as the number three wideout on the Cincinnati Bengals' depth chart. Sanu's extra year on the field and serviceable production when A.J. Green missed time last year likely gives him the edge over Jones going into 2015.

It would be equally unsurprising if Jones ended up taking Sanu's number-two spot earlier rather than later. Sanu has played 14 more games than Jones since they both came into the league three years ago, but Jones has produced far more efficiently.

PlayerGamesReception NEP/TargetSuccess RateRec/GmYards/RecYards/GmTD/Gm
Marvin Jones270.8492.75%2.613.233.80.38
Mohamed Sanu410.6179.17%2.911.834.10.27

Jones has added more points per target than has Sanu during their careers, and he also has a greater Success Rate: the percentage of a player's receptions that contribute positively to a team's expected point total.

You can see that Sanu's receptions and yards per game are slightly better (it's worth noting here that Sanu's per-game numbers benefit from his being top option for the Bengals in four games last year while Green was nursing an injury). Jones has been far more efficient and also has scored touchdowns at a much higher rate. They both have 11 career touchdowns, despite the 14-game differential.

The two saw almost the same amount of targets in 2013 (80 for Jones and 77 for Sanu), but as the season progressed Jones set himself apart from Sanu. Over the last four games, he saw 27 targets compared to 16 for Sanu. While we can't entirely discredit that Sanu may have improved his rapport with Andy Dalton by being on the field with him in 2014 when Jones wasn't, Jones' talent and efficiency should be enough to overcome this and secure him the number two receiver spot.

There are still a few problems though. The chance always exists that Jones doesn't overtake Sanu on the depth chart, either because he doesn't fully bounce back from his injury or because coaches don't always start the most talented or most efficient players. Even more of a concern is that even if Jones does lock up the starting job, his opportunities will be very limited in offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's offense.

A Lack of Opportunity

Hue Jackson has traditionally favored a run-heavy offensive approach. Looking at the last three seasons during which he was in control of an offense (2014 as the Bengals offensive coordinator, 2011 as the Raiders head coach, and 2010 as the Raiders offensive coordinator), his teams have always been among the most run-heavy in the league. When it comes to red zone playcalling, Jackson is even more pass-averse.

YearPass/Run Ratio (Rank)Pass AttemptsRed Zone Pass/Run (Rank)
2010 (OAK)1.07 (29th)4910.78 (31st)
2011 (OAK)1.18 (25th)5190.65 (32nd)
2014 (CIN)1.07 (29th)5040.69 (31st)

In a run-heavy offense with A.J. Green likely to command his usual 25 to 30% of the team targets, and with running backs accounting for roughly 25% of the Bengals targets in 2014, there's a lot of reason for concern about Jones' potential 2015 target total. To put this into some context, his 80 targets in 2013 accounted for just under 14% of the team total (and 16% of the team's non-running back targets). 80 targets in the 2014 offense would have been almost 16% of the total targets and almost 20% of the non-running back targets. His usage rates would need to improve from where they were before his injury just to put up a similar number of targets.

The red zone numbers are even more concerning. Of his 11 career touchdowns, 10 have come on red zone passes. With Hue Jackson running the offense, his touchdown upside will be severely limited, especially because, as usual, A.J. Green will be the number-one red zone target on the team.

A player can have all the talent in the world, but without enough opportunity, a true breakout always ends up being just out of reach. Anyone who's spent a lot of time playing fantasy football knows the pain of watching an incredibly talented player be given minimal opportunities and just knowing that they would have a great shot at putting it all together if they were given the chance.

Jones has already proven his talent, and his efficiency in 2013 was remarkable. That will not be an obstacle for him. Mohamed Sanu's potential to cut into Jones' targets, which already are at risk of being low because of Hue Jackson's playcalling tendencies, is what will hurt his breakout potential.

Maybe Jackson changes his tune with the presence of another talented receiver, and maybe Sanu sees a steep drop in targets with the return of Jones, but in reality, it will be an uphill battle for Marvin Jones to truly emerge onto the scene as a top wideout in 2015.