A deeper look at the Eagles’ signing of running back Matt Jones, with video analysis

A week ago, the Philadelphia Eagles signed former Redskins and Colts running back Matt Jones to a two-year deal worth a hair over $1.5 million, none of which is guaranteed.

Jones was a third round pick in 2015 who is still only 25 years old who has had some decent moments in the NFL. In 2016, in seven games, he had 99 carries for 460 yards (4.6 YPC) and 3 TDs, showing some promising traits in the process. All 99 carries can be seen in the video below. 

Unfortunately, fumbles have been Jones’ biggest issue so far in the pros.
In 275 career touches, he has 8 fumbles. That’s one fumble for every 34
touches. Obviously, that’s terrible.

But it’s actually even worse than those 8 fumbles in the stat sheet would indicate. 

In a 2016 game against the Detroit Lions, Jones was involved in three plays where the ball hit the ground. One
was a fumble near the goal line that the Lions recovered for a touchback. The
other two were bad handoff exchanges. One looked like Jones’ fault, while the
other was because Kirk Cousins got his foot stepped on by one of his linemen.
Both of those fumbles were charged to Cousins.

After that Lions game, which came in Week 7, Jones never
stepped foot on the field again for the Redskins in the regular season. They released him at final 53-man cutdowns in 2017, and he was promptly scooped up by the Colts, where he mostly rode the bench all year.

Here are all of Jones’ carries and targets in 2016, his last season of extensive action in the NFL:

Additional notes

•  As you might expect of a 230-plus pound back, Jones will run
right through arm tackles when he has a head of steam. He also shows good
balance in the aftermath of those broken tackles.

•  Jones’ impressive size also works against him. He is 6’2,
and he often runs upright through the line. As you can see in the video, he
takes a lot of big hits. Being a big target does not help him there.

•  Jones generally had more success late in games. As you can see below (granted, small sample size), there’s a steady progression of improvement in each quarter:

ATT YDS YPA TD
1st 27 95 3.5 0
2nd 21 78 3.7 2
3rd 19 81 4.3 0
4th 32 206 6.4 1

There’s logic that Jones’ best role is as a late-game closer, who is a difficult player to tackle when opposing defenses are fatigued. He would, in theory, be more of an asset to a projected Super Bowl-contending team like the Eagles, who could have their share of fourth quarter leads, than teams like the crappy 2017 Colts or the mediocre 2015-2016 Redskins.

•  Nobody is going to mistake Jones for LeSean McCoy. You won’t
see him make defenders miss with explosive jump cuts or other lateral moves. He
does, however, kind of pick his way through traffic with quick short steps, and
he makes his cuts work for him with timing and vision, in that he knows when to put his foot in the dirt and hit
a hole.

•  Jones isn’t much of a threat at all as a receiver. He has 27
career receptions, and the eight receptions you’ll see in the video above were
almost all checkdowns, with a rare screen mixed in. Jones is not a player who
you will look to line up in the slot or around the formation, looking to get a
mismatch on a linebacker. Additionally, his awareness as a receiver isn’t good.
At the 11:04 mark, he should be coming back for the pass. Instead, he turns away
from it, and it results in a batted pass that could have been a pick six
against a quicker coverage linebacker.

•  Jones doesn’t have a fast top gear. In his long run of the
season (57 yards vs. Philly), you’ll see that he’s caught from behind fairly
easily by Rodney McLeod.

Conclusion

The Eagles not only signed Jones to a non-guaranteed veteran minimum deal in 2018, but they got him to do so for two years, during which time he’s under their control, while the Eagles also have the ability to cut him at any time without penalty.

Barring a surprise trade, the Eagles’ top 3 running backs this season will be Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles. Beyond them, Jones will have to compete with Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, and UDFA Josh Adams for the final running back spot.

Jones has some similarities to LeGarrette Blount, who left the Eagles in free agency this offseason. But clearly, before he ever sees the field in meaningful situations (or even makes the team), Jones is going to have to fix his fumbling issues, which is easier said than done.


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