The Philadelphia Eagles signed veteran free agent running back Matt Jones earlier this offseason. Jones hasn’t lived up to expectations to this point after being selected with a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Now with his third team within the span of a year, it’s time to do or die. And for Jones, there still might be some hope. Signs point to Jones being the potential favorite for the fourth running back job behind Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement.
1) Can you sum up his time in Washington?
I was a big fan of the drafting of Matt Jones, and he showed incredible promise with his blend of athleticism and strength. I have taken heat for putting a lot of stock into measurables that scouts find important. In the case of Matt Jones, his hands measured smaller than other backs who were projected as likely/potential starters in the league out of the draft. This was a cause of concern because it generally equates to a higher probability of fumbling, which in Matt Jones’ case turned out to be his undoing. I believe it is what caused him to fall to pick #95, because otherwise a back with his size and power should have been a higher pick.
Jones did suffer a knee injury that opened the door for Robert Kelley in 2016, but it seemed that Jay Gruden lost just enough faith in Jones (because of fumbles) for Jones to turn that into a huge chip on his shoulder that ultimately led to him getting buried on the roster. Jones was reportedly unhappy, which didn’t necessarily endear him to coaches who were looking for a reason to give him another shot...he wasn’t breaking the bank, he was still 6-2 and 235 lbs and he had home run ability.
After failing to find a trading partner (because as it turns out, the market is pretty thin for running backs who have trouble holding onto the ball), he was waived last September.
2) Do you think Washington gave up on him too soon, and did fans want to bring him back at all this offseason?
I don’t think the Redskins gave up on Matt Jones too soon. In fact, some coaches would likely have cut ties sooner, as different coaches have different tolerance levels for turnovers. Given his raw potential, I know Jay Gruden wanted him to work out, but the trust factor seemed to become...a thing. I am ecstatic he has this chance to keep his career going, but sometimes it helps a player to get that new setting. Most Redskins fans were ready for the team to invest more valuable resources in the running back position and see Derrius Guice as the kind of player we just haven’t brought in for quite some time. We have been living with mid- to late-round draft picks, and sure, Alfred Morris paid off huge, but top-tier running backs don’t generally come out of the 6th rounds these days. Put differently, there is a reason a player like Guice was worthy of a second-round pick.
3) What are Jones’ biggest strengths? And is he any good in pass protection?
Matt Jones is a big, strong, fast athlete. That much is evident just watching him play. He comes from a power program inside a power conference and has the chops to play in the league. He can make a guy miss, or he can out-physical a tackler. He has also flashed home run abilities in the burgundy and gold, showing he can catch and run with the best of them. His pass protection abilities were never a weakness, and in fact kept him around until the bitter end in Washington as other running backs in the Redskins stable struggled last summer. He can definitely stay on the field in passing situations, which is good because he can catch and run.
4) Besides the obvious fumbling issue, do any other weaknesses stand out?
I don’t know about too many weaknesses other than turning the ball over. As they say, ball security is job security. I thought he might have gotten a little down on himself and heard through the grapevine he was maybe trying to get traded or released once he realized he had lost the trust of the Redskins coaching staff. That kind of thing might not be a real weakness, as it is probably what a lot of players would do, but it didn’t seem to sit well with the team apparently.
5) I found it interesting that former GM Scot McCloughan said he believes Matt Jones is “the most criminally underrated player” in the NFL. It’s not exactly shocking that McCloughan thinks highly of one of his former draft picks, but still, that’s really high praise. How likely do you think it is Jones can turn it around at all and revive his career?
I have long been a fan of Scot’s, and he has been good to us over the last couple years. I value his opinion and tend to believe him when he says things like this. Running backs are funny in that all they need is reps to really turn around a career. While it is possible that Matt Jones will never be productive again in the league, I would bet on Scot’s point of view here, even though it means it could happen in a green jersey. It will be up to Philly as to whether he gets the reps needed to turn heads.
6) Anything to know about him off the field, character wise?
I am not aware of anything off the field that would cause him to lose out on this opportunity he is being given.
1) Can you sum up Jones’ time with the Colts?
Jones spent much of the season on the practice squad or inactive for games. He was active in 5 games and garnered a total of 5 carries on the season. I would sum that up as pretty uneventful. Part of the fan base thought Jones might be able to crack the roster and stick around as insurance if Gore went down but nothing came of his time here. His exit was much quieter than his entrance.
2) Why didn’t he get more playing time on a struggling Colts team last season?
Partially because future Hall of Fame rusher Frank Gore was the primary back in Indianapolis. Partially because rookie Marlon Mack was given the opportunity to develop as a change of pace option by the front office and Robert Turbin spent much of the season as one of the most efficient third down backs in the league. Partially because you have to assume Jones simply isn’t that good, because after Turbin went down he had a real opportunity to carve out a role and never did.
3) Was there any interest in bringing him back this offseason?
Honestly, I don’t think there was any interest in bringing Jones back. I’m not sure how he fits in Reich’s offense -- for that reason I’m not sure how well he will fit into the Eagles offense. He is worth a flier because he once showed promise and because he has the size to potentially be a short-yardage back. Maybe he will get it figured out but that would be rare at this point in his career.