Matt Jones Is Terrible, Terrific, and Worth His Current Price in Fantasy Football
The fantasy world is complicated enough as it is. You've got to parse through injuries, conflicting coach speak, and dad bods all of which try to throw you off course each and every day.
Then you add in the talent-versus-situation discussion, and the whole world launches into a tizzy. Sounds fun, right?
That's where we're at with Matt Jones. His teammates badly outperformed him in his rookie season with the Washington Redskins, he carries a boatload of risk, and there's recent talk that he may be part of a two-headed backfield. That's about as grim as you can get.
Yet, his situation is bordering on perfection. The offense isn't bad, and the team didn't invest much in the running back position during the offseason. Is that enough to overcome a truly wretched rookie season?
Let's sort through both sides of the Matt Jones dilemma to see if he's worth his current draft slot in season-long fantasy leagues.
Why Matt Jones Is Terrible
If you click on any of those links above, you'll see plenty of evidence that Jones' rookie season was a raging dumpster fire. Just to recap, though, let's go through it using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players.
If you're new to the site, here's how NEP works. Prior to each play, there's an expected number of points an offense will score on its current drive. A 3-yard rush on 3rd-and-2 will net them a first down, increasing the expected number of points, thus giving the team positive NEP. That same 3-yard rush on 3rd-and-4, though, will likely result in a punt, dropping the team's NEP for the drive.
There was a whole lotta negative when the ball was in Jones' hands last year.
Of the 44 running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts, Jones was dead last in Rushing NEP per carry at -0.19. His 144 carries turned into -26.84 Rushing NEP, meaning the team lost almost 4 touchdowns over the course of the year by giving the ball to Jones. Plays like this didn't help.
Jones lost four fumbles on the season, resulting in 14.47 Rushing NEP lost. Not only did he fumble a lot, but he fumbled at awful times, and it cost his team pretty dearly.
His Rushing Success Rate is a bit more favorable, but that's not saying much. Here, he was 38th of those 44 running backs, even edging teammate Alfred Morris. Still, when the optimistic spin is the 38th best back in the league, things be twisted. You'd have to be banking on a ton of progression to call him a quality option after what happened last year, and that's not a gamble you should be making often.
Still, this offseason could not have gone better for Jones from a fantasy perspective. Entering the year, there are a lot of factors that say he could be in a good spot.
Why Matt Jones Is Terrific
Even an awful running back can be a productive fantasy option if he's in the right situation. For a litany of reasons, it sort of appears that's where Jones is at now.
In searching for a running back for fantasy, you want a guy who will get red-zone opportunities. Efficient quarterbacks are the ones who can create said opportunities, and Kirk Cousins fit that mold in 2015.
Cousins finished the year ranked seventh in Passing NEP per drop back among the 47 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. This put him right behind Drew Brees and right ahead of eventual-MVP Cam Newton. It's counter to what he had done earlier in his career so we should take this with a grain of salt, but 569 drop backs is a significant sample.
What's more impressive for Cousins is that he did this with an oft-injured DeSean Jackson and zero help from the running game. Now, Jackson is healthy, and the team brought Josh Doctson in via the draft to further bolster the passing game. If things pan out through the air, you can bet that Jones will get those ever-important scoring chances, making his outlook a bit more rosy.
None of this would matter for Jones if he had some hot rookie breathing down his neck. That's not the case, though, as he appears to be pretty firmly entrenched in the backfield.
The team took Jones in the third round back in 2015, the 95th pick off the board. This year, they didn't invest in the position until the seventh round, taking Keith Marshall 242nd overall. Marshall may get some run in the backfield with Jones, but the draft capital in the two heavily favors Jones.
Then there's the argument that Chris Thompson will eliminate Jones from the passing game, which is a valid concern, especially in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues. However, Jones was able to hold his own and even exceed Thompson's production in a small sample last year. Reception Success Rate is the percentage of receptions on which the player increased the team's NEP, and Target NEP deducts any expected points lost on incompletions and interceptions.
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Even though Jones had fewer opportunities, he produced more Reception NEP and Target NEP than Thompson. It's possible that a 78-yard touchdown against the New Orleans Saints padded that a bit.
However, in Jones' Reception Success Rate, that'd only count as one positive play. He still managed to outperform Thompson there, as well. This isn't to say that Jones is a better receiver than Thompson or a passing-game savant; it's just that he's not a liability there, and we shouldn't simply write off his potential abilities as a receiver.
Again, this isn't an attempt to make Jones seem like a bona fide stud. He's not, as we saw before. But is he worth his current price? Absolutely.
Why Matt Jones Is Worth His Current Price
As of this writing, Jones is being taken as the 22nd running back off the board in 12-team, PPR leagues, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. That puts him firmly in the middle of the fifth round, a fairly decent investment for a guy with his question marks. Why, then, is he worth the price?
Just look at the backs around him. Matt Forte is going more than a round before Jones, and he has more competition in his backfield with Bilal Powell while simultaneously dealing with an injury. Carlos Hyde is in the same realm as Forte, and his team has the lowest projected win total in the league, per numberFire's algorithms. Arian Foster had an injury last year from which most backs never regain their true form, and he's going just one pick behind Jones.
Everybody in this tier has warts as a fantasy asset. Some of them are much bigger than Jones', and few have a ceiling as high as his if he can improve his efficiency. It's a hefty price to pay, but that doesn't mean he's not worth it.
In general, rostering bad players in fantasy is a slippery slope. They're generally ineffective, and they're prone to losing playing time if the struggles persist. But that's not the only factor to consider.
In Jones' case, everything outside of his individual talent says that he could be a quality fantasy asset. He's on an efficient offense that added pieces in the offseason, he has relatively light competition for touches, and he could have a bigger role in the passing game than his perception suggests. Even though he could be lacking in some areas, those factors -- when combined together -- make him very much worth his current price in re-draft fantasy leagues.