Taking a look at the Washington Redskins' rookies and their progress throughout the season. I'll watch at least three of their games to get a feel for how they improved over the course of the year.
Player: Matt Jones
Position: Running back
When drafted: Third round
Stats: Jones carried the ball 144 times for 490 yards and three touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 304 yards and one score. Jones' 3.40 yards per carry average ranked last among the 47 players with at least 100 carries last season. His yards after contact of 1.44 ranked 45th. All stats courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.
Games watched: St. Louis, New England, Chicago.
The good: Jones showed that when he ran lower through the hole and didn't try to bounce everything outside, he could be effective. That was evident late in the year versus the Bears. One sequence showed a lot: On the first play, he failed to run low and was tackled for two yards; next play he ran lower on a third-and-1 and broke a linebacker tackle at the line to get the first down; next play he ran through another linebacker two yards downfield because he lowered his pads and gained six more yards. Jones showed pretty good footwork for a bigger back, and later in the season he was more efficient with his feet -- using a shoulder dip to turn the corner and getting there because he didn't stutter-step for example. He would turn upfield a little quicker most of the time. That's one reason why Jones was better gaining yards after contact in the second half of the season (1.68) as opposed to the first (1.24). Jones was good in the screen game because he was the one Redskins back who could keep defenses guessing when he was in the game -- with Alfred Morris it was typically a run; with Chris Thompson, it was typically a pass. Jones showed good burst on some runs, getting to the edge better. He showed patience on some of those runs (unlike Roy Helu in the past) by allowing the blockers to set up and then cutting (saw this a few times versus St. Louis).
The bad: Though he improved with his pad level, it was still inconsistent. Against Chicago, Jones was better in this area but the following week versus Buffalo he reverted to some old habits. The more consistent he runs while lowering his shoulder, the better he'll become. The coaches harped on it all season and Jones understands well what he must do. Early in the season he too often wanted to bounce the ball outside. He improved in this area, but it still bears watching. Ball security obviously was an issue as he lost four fumbles and recovered a fifth. Part of this stems from his upright running style, leading to more shots on the ball. Jones' mental mistakes also helped limit his role and that's something that must be corrected if he wants to be the full-time No. 1 back. Though Jones helps in the pass game, he's going to have to work on getting open against linebackers. A lot of his catches came off screens or on plays where he was left uncovered or against a zone.
Summing it up: In his last 70 carries of the season, Jones averaged only 3.09 yards per carry. So while he improved in some ways, it wasn't enough to suggest he should be the No. 1 back in 2016. Blocking played into it at times, but so did his runs. He flashed signs he could be the guy, but not enough to prevent the Redskins from needing to add serious competition for the top job with Morris unlikely to return. Jones' durability needs to improve; it was Morris' strength. Jones discussed ways he had improved in this area last season by taking better care of his body. It has to start in the offseason, but must carry through into the season -- in terms of stretching, massages, etc. I like his footwork but he'll have to make sure not to overdo it in the future; there were some runs (against New England for example) where he should have just turned it up field rather than trying to juke another defender. These are not insurmountable issues, just areas he'll have to improve. I wouldn't count Jones out as the No. 1 guy; I also wouldn't pencil him in just yet.