There has been a lot of discussion this offseason as to which of the two running backs, incumbent Alfred Morris, or new-comer Matt Jones, is a better fit in Jay Gruden's offense. This discussion remains relavent as Morris is set to become a free agent in March, and the Redskins will be facing a decision on whether or not to keep him in burgundy and gold.
I'd like to take a detailed look at both running backs, and see what each one brings to the table. Finally, we can discuss if there is room for both on the team moving forwards.
Age - 27
Height - 5'10"
Weight - 224
NFL Experience - 4 years
College - Florida Atlantic
Draft - 2012 6th round(pick 173)
40 time - 4.67(combine); 4.61(pro day)
Bench Press - 16 reps
Stats(4 year average): 270 rushing attempts/season. 1178 rushing yards/season. 7 rushing touchdowns/season. 3 fumbles lost/season. 12 receptions/season. 91 receiving yards/season. 0 receiving touchdowns.
Age - 22
Height - 6'2"
Weight - 231
NFL Experience - 1 year
College - Florida
Draft - 2015 3rd round pick(pick 95)
40 time - 4.61(combine); 4.55(pro day)
Bench Press - 20 reps
Stats(1 year): 144 rushing attempts. 490 rushing yards. 3 rushing touchdowns. 4 fumbles lost. 19 receptions. 304 receiving yards. 1 receiving touchdown.
Morris is a great zone runner. He excels when he's able to press the line of scrimmage horizontally, while his linemen work in tandem to get defenders moving in pursuit of the play. Once they over-run the play, this leaves vertical lanes, and Morris is very good at planting his foot in the ground and finding the cutback, working to the second level, and making the first defender miss. Alf is also a workhorse back, having totaled 1078 rushing attempts in his first four seasons(an average of 270 attempts per season). He's averaged a respectable 4.4 yards per carry over his career, and has overcome some of the fumbling problems that plagued him earlier in his tenure(he lost 3 fumbles in 2012, and 4 in 2013 - he's lost 0 since).
Morris' biggest strength, however, is his durability. Although he's had to fight through some bumps and bruises along the way, he's never had to miss a game in his four year career; which is amazing given the pounding that NFL running backs take every game!
On top of the previously mentioned, Morris is as humble a professional athlete as you'll find. By all accounts, he's an excellent teammate, and coaches dream.
Alf isn't a great fit in a power system. He's not a run-you-over type back. He doesn't do as well when he has to make something out of nothing. This is not saying he not a tough runner, because he is, but he not necessarily going to lover his shoulder and move a pile forward for 3 yards. He doesn't quite have that "burst" you look for in a power back, and he certainly isn't going to run away from defenders in the open field. Morris also lacks the pure speed to turn the corner on a toss and take the ball down the sideline - which is why he's best at the zone stretch, where he can press the edge, and cut back.
Another glaring weakness is his ability as a receiver out of the backfield. For his career, Morris has just 47 career receptions, for 365 yards, and zero touchdowns. For the great backs in the NFL, that is half a season's work. Some will argue that he is a pure running back, and pure running backs don't need to catch the ball if they're effective running it, but having a back who is considered one-dimensional limits what your offense can do when he is on the field, and it allows defenses to focus on other areas, as they really have no fear of Morris out of the backfield.
Finally, Morris is not a good blocker. He tries, but he's not improved at all in this area since he's entered the league. Some guys have it, some guys just don't. Morris is the latter. The blocking, and ineffectiveness as a receiver out of the backfield, make Morris a two-down back in this league.
Jones is a big, powerful, fast running back. He didn't exactly show that speed at the NFL combine, but he wowed scouts at Florida's Pro Day with times varying between the low 4.4's to mid 4.5's(one had him timed at 4.37). One scout even went so far as to say, that it's not fair to be that big and that fast! Jones, however, showed he is more than just a downhill back this past season. He was excellent as a receiver out of the backfield, displaying soft, natural hands, and great open-field running ability. It is this skill-set, combined with his above-average blocking ability, that makes him a complete NFL running back.
Jones runs hard, and seems to seek out contact, but he also shows the ability to receive a toss, turn the corner, and take it to the house. It is this trait that makes him special.
Jones had some rough sledding during the season. He got dinged up, and was forced to miss some time. This was also an issue in college, so it's worth monitoring moving forward. He also had some ball security issues, and while this is not at all uncommon for a rookie, his 4 fumbles lost were concerning.
Despite his massive frame, and deceptive speed, Matt averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt, and had 490 rushing yards. He did however add 4 touchdowns(3 rushing 1 receiving), although I think the Redskins expected more, especially as a goalline back. The silver lining here is, neither he, nor Morris, lit the world on fire, and this probably has more to do with a young, inexperienced offense line, than it does with the running back.
In a perfect world, it would be nice to keep both players, but in reality, this is not a very likely scenario. Morris is set to become a free agent once the new league year starts, and given the short-shelf life for NFL running backs, he will need to make his money in his second contract, before he gets old, battered and beaten, and is thrown to the scrap heap. The Redskins drafted Jones knowing that this day would arrive with Alf, and I don't believe they are in a position to give a one-dimensional running back, however good he's been for this team in the past, a multi-year contract in the neighborhood of 4-5 million per season(or higher). Morris and his agent probably realize that there is more money to be made on the open market, with a team who runs a pure zone blocking scheme, so I fully expect him to explore any, and all options out there.
Another issue is Morris' decline in production from his rookie season in 2012. He's went from a career high 4.8 yards per carry during his rookie season, to a career low of 3.7 this past year. His attempts and rushing yards have decreased each season too, having his worst year by far in 2015, where he accumulated just 751 rushing yards and one total touchdown. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, these numbers don't scream "contract extension".
Jones is entering year two of his rookie contract, and will count just $698,854 against the salary cap. With a Kirk Cousins contract extension looming, and more-than-likely a Jordan Reed one coming in the near future, plus three receivers eating up $24.5 million in 2016, the Redskins need to save as much cap space as they can. It wouldn't be prudent to invest heavily in a 27 year old running back, who has more miles on his body than his 1991 Mazda 626 he nicknamed "Bentley". Bentley has since gotten a make-over, and I'm sure the old car feels refreshed, and looks like new. Maybe Alfred Morris needs a change of scenery as well, in his own form of a make-over with a new team, to help revive a once promising career.