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Spotlight: Felix Jones

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 14th


Jason Wood's thoughts

What to do with Felix Jones? He was the apple of owner Jerry Jones' eye three years ago when the Cowboys drafted Jones in the 1st round out of the University of Arkansas (Jerry Jones' alma mater). It was thought that he would be the "lightning" to Marion Barber's "thunder" for a year or two, and then emerge as a full-fledged feature back. Three years into his NFL tenure, the jury is still out on whether Jones is capable of that kind of a feature role.

Goal Line Struggles
We sometimes make too much out of "goal line vultures" in that very few teams actually use an RB near the goal-line that doesn't otherwise get a significant workload. But there are exceptions, and the biggest conundrum I have with Jones is a seeming complete ineptitude as a short-yardage scorer.

In the three years Jones has been in the league, 83 running backs have had at least 10 goal-line carries (defined as 10 yards to goal, or less). Jones' 12.5% conversion rate (2 TDs in 16 attempts) ranks 79th! That's atrocious, to say the least. What's equally disturbing is that both Tashard Choice and Marion Barber were more productive at the goal-line, so we can't simply blame Jones' struggled on scheme or the offensive line.

Worst 10 Short Yardage Backs in NFL (2008-2010)

Rank First Last Rush TDs TD%
74 Donald Brown 20 3 15.0%
75 Darren Sproles 28 4 14.3%
76 Jerome Harrison 15 2 13.3%
77 Matt Forte 80 10 12.5%
78 Larry Johnson 32 4 12.5%
79 Felix Jones 16 2 12.5%
80 Derrick Ward 25 3 12.0%
81 Willie Parker 26 3 11.5%
82 Jamal Lewis 36 4 11.1%
83 Julius Jones 16 1 6.3%

With Marion Barber waived, the question is whether Jones will get the short-yardage carries by default. Enter rookie DeMarco Murray. Murray scored 50 rushing TDs at Oklahoma, and was a wizard in close to the goal. He could EASILY become the go-to guy at the goal line - presuming, of course, that Murray can shrug off his own reputation for being nicked and bruised all the time.

Diminishing Returns?
We only caught a glimpse of Jones' breakaway speed as a rookie - but in those 30 carries, he ran for an astounding 266 yards (8.9 yards per rush!). In his second season, his workload increased a bit to the tune of 116 carries, and he still delivered an impressive 5.9 yards per carry (leading the league). Yet last year, with 185 carries (his first significant full-time role), Jones' attained a pedestrian 4.3 yards per rush.

4.3 yards per rush is a respectable average, for a workhorse. But for a back that's going to get 180-220 carries? Fantasy owners need more. Consider backs like Jamaal Charles (6.0 per rush) and LeSean McCoy (4.7 per rush) and how much easier it is for them to deliver high end fantasy numbers even without the chance of 20+ carries. Can Jones bounce back? Especially if he gets even more carries this season as the team seems to want?

This is where I get concerned:

  • Jones' yards-per-rush on carries 1 through 10 = 4.6 per rush
  • Jones' yards-per-rush on carries 11+ = 3.3 per rush

Simply put, Jones really broke down as got more work in a game, and that's the very antithesis of what you want from a starting NFL running back.

Concerns Aside, There Are Also Reasons for Optimism

  • Fresh legs - At 6'0", 200 pounds, Jones has the build to handle a big role, and with only 331 career attempts, he should have plenty in the tank
  • Tony Romo is healthy - Last year's Cowboys season went up in a blaze of glory, in no small part because Tony Romo broke his collarbone. He's healthy, one of the league's best passers, and will not only throw to Jones liberally but also keep defenses from loading up the box against him
  • Improved offensive line - Leonard Davis and Marc Columbo are big names, and fixtures in Dallas, but they were well past their prime. LT Doug Free re-signed and rookie stud Tyron Smith will anchor the right side, while Montrae Holland, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier will provide a stable interior
  • Marion Barber was finally released - Jones enthusiasts have been waiting for Marion Barber to move on for three years, and they finally got their wish. Now backing up Matt Forte in Chicago, Barber will no longer keep Jones from a starting role. That said, rookie DeMarco Murray could represent an equal, or more daunting challenger for playing time. Jones only played 52% of the snaps last year, there's room for more opportunities
  • Jason Garrett has taken over - Jason Garrett was the Cowboys OC so it's strange to think that his becoming head coach would matter much. But after he took over for Wade Phillips, the Cowboys played with more precision and intensity on both sides of the ball
  • Doesn't fumble - Jones has only fumbled three times in three years, he takes care of the ball which is vital if he's ever going to earn more than 10-12 carries per game
  • Makes positive yardage - Jones got stuffed on only 8.6% of his carries, better than any other NFC RB with 150+ carries

Positives

  • Jones is going to get every opportunity to become a full-time contributor this year, as Marion Barber was waived
  • The Cowboys have made improving the offensive line a priority
  • Jones added a new facet to his game last year as a receiver out of the backfield, which will serve him well, particularly in PPR leagues

Negatives

  • Jones has been an inept scorer in his first three seasons, and has been one of the worst goal-line backs in the league
  • Jones' yards per carry plummeted whenever he got more than 10 carries in a game, that doesn't bode well for his transitioning to a heavier workload
  • DeMarco Murray may be a bigger threat to stealing touches than Marion Barber was

Final thoughts

It's important not to be too dogmatic in your fantasy viewpoints. Almost any player has value at a certain point. While I doubt Felix Jones will be available when I would consider him a good risk/reward, that doesn't mean he's someone I can't see being productive. The Cowboys are drawing a line in the sand and giving him a chance to emerge in the same way Darren McFadden did a year ago for Oakland -- and he has the natural ability to do so. But a terrible goal line success rate combined with an inability to show he can handle more than a part-time workload are causes for concern. He's one of those backs who wouldn't shock me with a top 12 finish, but ultimately I think there's a better chance he fails to deliver Top 20 results.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

elguapo07 said:

I'll bat leadoff here. Jones is one of those guys that probably has always been drafted higher, based on his "upside", than he's produced. He teases us with his big play ability and we looked at his gaudy avg of 8.9 in '08, 5.9 in '09 in limited duty and I'm sure most who drafted him last year were hoping for a little more than 1250 total yds and 2 td's.

Going back to his days at Arkansas I always thought Jones was the most talented back in that backfield - and that's saying alot considering DMac (2 time Doak Walker award winner) and Hillis were in that backfield. Jones was nothing short of electric in college - surpassing a 1000yds in both is soph and jr. seasons while averaging a fantastic 7.6 & 8.7 avg respectively plus his ability as a kick returner. After 3 professional season Jones has touched the ball 400 times (331 rush / 69 recps) for 2330 total yds and 8 td's. Again, he seems to tease us with flashes of that big play ability he showed so often in college yet can't either seem to stay healthy or doesn't seem to get enough touches for my liking to be a RB1 that I think his upside is.

One thing I noticed is that last year he seemed to have gained anywhere from 10 to 20lbs from his college days and I'm wondering if it had any effect on that extra gear he seemed to have in college. I'm also now reading that Jones may have dropped back down to his playing weight from college - not sure if this means anything but last year in 185 carries he had 2 runs of 20yds or greater while in 146 touches in 08 & 09 combined he had 7 such runs of 20yds or greater.

I've always thought Jones as of a stronger, slightly bigger and a bit more dynamic than a James Brooks. With Barber most likely out of the picture in Dallas, Jones has an oppurtunity to be the primary ballcarrier for Dallas. I've always liked watching this kid run with the ball as it seemed he could break a big run anytime he touched the ball. I have to admit that I drafted him in 08 and 09 and came away a bit disappointed each year.

MrTwo94 said:

A lot depends on if Barber does indeed get traded or released. Most people are writing him off, but Barber is not old and doesn't have a lot of mileage on him. That is not the perception since he is such a physical runner, but in his seven seasons he's only seen 200 carries three times, maxing out at 238. If he returns then I fear another year of split carries. If not, Felix's time may have finally arrived. After avoiding him thus far, I think he provides a lot of value at his current ADP of RB26. The combination of last season's 800 rushing yards and Dallas' terrible year may have scared everyone off. But Dallas should once again be an offenseive juggernaut. I expect about 400 carries to be split amongst the backs (and probably 10-15 TD). Felix has a very good chance to snag 250 of those carries with the assumption that Barber is gone. 250 carries in that offense can go a long way and should place him well above RB26 (hell, only 200 carries should do that). Although injury should be a concern. Choice should be a cheap handcuff, especially since the rookie will warrant the most hype.

Grahamburn said:

I guess I just don't expect as much from Felix as some of you.

Last year was his first time in three seasons playing in all 16 games. He bulked up to handle the load of a full season, but lost the explosiveness he had in his first two years. Now he's dropping his weight back down? He still managed only 1,250 total yards in those 16 games. 1 TD isn't much of a step down from the 3 TDs he scored in his first two years respectively.

Tashard Choice is still there. DeMarco Murray is now in the fold as well. If Garrett thought Felix was a feature back, why do they keep using picks on young RBs? The Cowboys are a passing team with 3 young players at the RB position. Even if Felix manages 50 receptions, I don't think he'll see enough carries to finish inside the top 20 RBs.

His highest finish in 3 years was last season at RB27. I doubt he'll last to a spot where I'll find him valuable. I'd expect the same kind of yardage with a few more TDs.

rzrback77 said:

Felix Jones ia a tremendous talent and was a joy to watch play the game. He only had one speed and it was fast and full-go all the time. As mentioned earlier, he was best used in small doses, but that worked extremely well for us because we had him at the same time as McFadden and those two had Peyton Hillis for three years. Awesome time to be a Hog Fan.

I do hope that Felix Jones did attempt to drop the gained weight and will be playing at his customary 5-10 210ish weight. And I hope that the speed comes back with the weight loss.

His three seasons at Dallas have had mixed reviews. Let's list them here for discussion:

08 - 6 gms 30 carries 266 yds 8.9 ypc 3 targets 2 catches 10 yds 5.0 ypc and 3 total TDs
09 - 14 gms 116 carries 685 yds 5.9 ypc 22 targets 19 catches 119 yds 6.3 ypc and 3 total TDs
10 - 16 gms 185 carries 800 yds 4.3 ypc 51 targets 48 catches 450 yds 9.4 ypc and 2 total TDs

In each year, his targets increased and his yard per reception grew so I think that he will continue to be an excellent receiving option out of the backfield. However, Choice and Murry are both excellent in this role as well.

His carries went up each year, but his effectiveness dropped significantly. I think that he is better used as a change of pace dynamic player. If owners are wanting him to put up huge plays, I think that they also need to be in the camp that he is the relief guy and not the primary ball carrier or even the short yardage guy.

I am going to project him being an awesome NFL player for the Cowboys, but not necessarily a good fantasy guy.


Felix Jones projections

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