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Jaguars Wide Receiver Report: Matt Jones, Draft Flop or Developing Star?

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Matt Jones might be feeling a different sort of squeeze this season...

With the first minicamp finished, it's time to take a look at each position and establish who's rising and falling down the depth chart. The obvious place to start is at Wide Receiver, where we've spent two of the last four first round draft choices (three if you count a Pass-Catching Tight End) addressing the inability of our passing game to do much of anything. What I'm planning on doing is taking a look at each receiver on the roster in the context of their draft pick/free agent signing, examine the expectations, and think about where they fit in the upcoming season. That being said, let's get this thing started with...

Matt Jones, Wide Receiver, Number 18

Just hearing the name provokes strong feelings from Jacksonville fans. To some, he's an option at quarterback (see the question by Brandon), to others, he's a bust. With the influx of new receivers this off-season through the draft and free agency, it's time we evaluate the role and value of Matt Jones and establish just where he fits in the teams future.

First and Foremost, I'm about has hard on Matt Jones as anyone can be. I cut him so little slack that it's probably unfair for me to judge him. I was hoping we'd get WR Mark Clayton or CB Fabian Washington in that draft rather than a converted quarterback.

With that caveat behind us, here's what we know about Matt Jones. The folks at Scouts's Inc. say

Jones is a very good athlete who has awesome playmaking potential. He is at his best on gadget plays and reverses. He has good receiving ability and made some impressive catches as a rookie. He has deceptive speed in open space. But Jones' inexperience at receiver (he is a converted quarterback) showed as a rookie. He is raw and inconsistent. He loses focus at times and isn't yet tough enough going over the middle or in traffic. He struggles to gain separation against physical cover 2 cornerbacks. His size and speed have value on the perimeter, but he is best suited for the slot until he improves his release. He still is learning route and coverage concepts. He needs to improve his body language and setup to create downfield separation. His excellent timed speed isn't fully evident on vertical routes. He is a marginal blocker and isn't very physical. He needs to get stronger and refine his skills.
They rank him as the 88th best wide receiver in the league (but given that they have like nine way ties at every spot, it might as well be the 888th best wide receiver.) What's more important, I suppose, is that they have him graded at 65, below Peerless Price, Peter Warrick, Todd Pinkston, and Eddie Kennison. Hardly good company. But fear not Jacksonville fans, he's still above Sam Aiken and Airese Currie. Matt's stats for his career are:
Rushing
Year Games Att Yards Y/A TD
2005 16 1 51 4.2 0
2006 14 -6 -6 0
Total 30 13 45 3.5 0
Receiving
Year Games Rec Yards Y/R TD
2005 16 36 432 12 5
2006 14 41 643 15.7 4
Total 30 77 1075 14 9

Let's look at the expectations we placed on the former Arkansas quarterback after the 2005 draft. Looking back at some of the commentary on the pick makes the whole affair look pretty silly. For example, this comment by Vic Ketchman makes me cringe :

This is a pick that could turn out to be a watershed event for this franchise, because Jones has the talent and the personality to take the covers off the seats in Alltel Stadium.

Of course, we all dreamt of Matt Jones super plays, visions of 4.3 speed and 6-6 height playing every role and every offensive position. Who could match up against a freak like that?

The gaget plays were going to ignite an otherwise stagnant offense.

Yet it seems that those days are gone. In 2005 Matt was had 12 rushing attempts, most of which in the "Matt Jones Counter Run/Reverse" mold. These attempts all but vanished last year, as Matt only had one rushing attempt (a reverse against Dallas in week 1). He fell into a more traditional role on the outside. In his second season his stats improved only slightly, raising his ypr by a few yards (12 to 15.7) and his receptions by 5 (36 to 41) but his TD's dropped and he largely disappeared from games.

It was last year that rumors emerged about Matt Jones being a bit of a flake. I thought I saw that first hand during the season finale against Kansas City where Matt Jones had a chance to make a big time hail mary play, but after making the catch he only half-heartadly pushed his way toward the end zone.

It seems that Matt Jones suffers not from any sort of inability, but rather a failed work ethic. It starts with his conditioning, for it's every training camp/mini camp that we discover that Matt's blown his hammy, again. Watch some film of Matt Jones when things go awry, he just gives up. Against the Texans when he had a chance to tackle an interception return, he fell short. When the situation demands toughness, Matt falls short.

Now I'm being really hard on the guy, and I hope he proves us wrong this season, but there has to be legitimate improvement or he's done.

I know that there is legitimate beef with hanging a Wide Recevier out to dry when he had three different quarterbacks passing the ball last season, but the numbers don't show a HUGE difference between his performance with Byron or David.

There are some positives though. Matt, when used properly, is a tough receiver to match up against. If Dennis Northcutt or any other speedy wide receiver is sent downfield deep with Matt and Reggie on the outside, the match-up problems are immense. I don't know that we should give up on Jones just yet, but the best test for him is an open completion at wide receiver. If he steps up and earns the starting role, then so be it, but we have to see the measurables on the field. I'd be happy if I saw one play where he blows past the cornerback with that 4.36 speed.

For the sake of prediction, I'd guess 60 receptions, 850 yards and 7 TD's. I'd pee myself if our passing game had a receiver with those kind of numbers. ( I know, those are pretty sad number one WR stats, but I'll take what I can get) Also, the Jaguars offense will be "dared to pass" this year because it's clear that every team is going to stack against our superior running game. This should increase Matt and the other Wide Receivers chances of actually doing their jobs.

Next on our WR journey is Reggie Williams!

-Chris