Should Matt Jones Have an Every-Down Role for the Washington Redskins?
Alfred Morris entered Washington in 2012 as an unheralded sixth-round pick, selected 171 picks after the once heralded franchise savior, Robert Griffin III. Morris, though, quickly went from unheralded sixth-round draft pick to starting running back for the Redskins that season.
We know Robert Griffin III's story.
But that year, Morris took 335 carries for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Only Adrian Peterson rushed for more yards than Morris in 2012, as Morris made an amazing entrance his rookie year.
In his four seasons in Washington, Morris rushed for 4,713 yards and 29 touchdowns on 1,078 carries. In addition to displaying a good rushing ability throughout his time in Washington, Morris showed off impressive durability, appearing in all 66 combined regular and postseason games that Washington had over the past four years.
While there are positives for Morris, there are negatives, too. Morris only caught 47 passes in his four years in Washington -- he was targeted 26 times in 2014, but never reached 20 targets in any other season.
While Morris is a good runner, his passing game chops are missing.
Can he do more than just replace Morris' early-down work?
In his rookie year, Jones rushed for just 490 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns on 144 carries. He also had four fumbles carrying the ball, further hurting his rushing ability.
To analyze deeper, we can use Net Expected Points (NEP) to see just how much value Jones' rushing brought to Washington. It can also help us compare him to Morris based on the value they provided.
Of 49 running backs with 90 plus carries, Jones had the third worst Rushing NEP (-26.84), the worst Rushing NEP per rush (-0.19), and the 42nd ranked Rushing Success Rate (35.42%), which measures the percentage of positive plays made by a running back.
Being near the bottom for each categories is bad, so why should Jones even have a two-down role in this offense?
While Morris' Rushing NEP per play (-0.08) was better than Jones', Jones may have been a little less dependent on big plays than Morris to maintain efficiency, as Jones' Rushing Success Rate was better than Morris' (32.67%). In other words, Jones was creating positive plays more often than Morris was, regardless of his poor efficiency.
The other side to this, too, is fumbles. If Jones fumbled as little as Morris did (not at all), then his Rushing NEP per play (-0.09) was at Morris' level, and his Rushing Success Rate (36.43%) improved, too.
In other words, the hope is that Jones can improve on his ball security to improve his effectiveness. If he does, then there's reason to believe he can be just as effective as Morris, at least the Morris of 2015.
While Jones physically appears like an early-down back, his closest measurables comparable at PlayerProfiler is Le'Veon Bell. Bell is a complete every-down back for Pittsburgh, and Jones' work in the passing game last year displayed his potential to become an every-down back in Washington.
However, the math doesn't favor Thompson. There were 58 running backs who saw at least 25 targets last year. Thompson caught 35 of his 47 targets for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Jones caught 19 of his 25 targets for 304 yards and a touchdown. Based on traditional statistics, Jones looks like the superior passing game option.
And NEP tells the same story.
Thompson ranked 25th in Reception NEP (17.66), while Jones was 17th (21.35). When looking at per target efficiency, Thompson remains 25th in Reception NEP per target (0.37), while Jones vaults to first (0.85) among the subset.
Although Jones is being labelled as the product of a big play, he had the third best Reception Success Rate (78.95%) while Thompson was 26th (65.71%). To put this another way, Jones very consistently added positive value to his team when catching the ball -- big plays weren't just skewing his averages.
Even omitting his long touchdown against New Orleans, Jones had a Reception NEP per target (0.60) and Reception Success Rate (77.78%). Both of those numbers are higher than Thompson's values.
Overall, Jones is a very consistent option in the passing game who deserves more work, as he displayed greater value than Thompson here.
And although Jones struggled on the ground this past year, plenty of backs -- including the aforementioned Bell, or even Devonta Freeman -- struggled in their respective rookie seasons before turning the corner in Year 2. It's wrong to expect improvement like Bell and Freeman, but it's clear that Jones at least has the potential to be an every-down back for Washington.