A third-round pick in 2015, Matt Jones showed flashes of immense talent as a rookie running back last year as early as Week 2. That game, a 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams, Jones rushed 19 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
The future looked very bright then, however, the results dried up after that early outburst. It wouldn't be until November before Jones broke the 100-yard barrier again in a blowout victory over the defensively challenged New Orleans Saints. Injuries - and fumble issues - slowed Jones as a rookie.
But it's not totally fair to look at Jones' rookie year without considering that he was the clear-cut backup to veteran Alfred Morris. While Jones and Morris always said the right things about playing together and competing for carries, that kind of situation almost inherently creates an uneasy atmosphere. This fall, Morris will be playing for the Cowboys, and Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan have made it clear they expect Jones to take over the top running back job for the 'Skins.
On Friday, backup QB Colt McCoy talked about Jones on the ESPN 980's Cooley & Kevin. McCoy was bullish about Jones for this season.
"I think Matt Jones is ready to kind of own that backfield and take charge of that position," McCoy said.
Last season, Jones accounted for nearly 800 yards from scrimmage, showing both toughness and speed. But his average yards-per-carry was a problem at 3.4, as was the Washington run game in general. One major difference between the departed Morris and Jones was the ability to catch balls out of the backfield. Morris struggled in the pass game, Jones does not. He had 19 catches for 304 yards and two TDs through the air last season, good for 16 yards-per-catch.
"He has the ability to be a guy you want to get the ball in his hands," McCoy said of the former Florida Gator.
As for Jones, McCoy senses he's ready to take advantage of his big opportunity.
"He’s asking a lot more questions than he was as a rookie. He’s wanting to get coached more out on the field."
Much talk will be made of Kirk Cousins having an entire offseason as the cemented starting QB, and how much that will help his development. The same could be said of Jones; who split practice carries and reps as a rookie, but will get the bulk of those chances throughout this summer and fall.
"It just seems like in the locker room he’s more open," McCoy said.
For Jones, being more confident will not just be about running the football. He needs to be better in pass blocking and understanding NFL blitz schemes. There's also the simple stuff, like putting the ball on the ground in a December win over the Bears thinking the play was over. That can't happen.
Jones made rookie mistakes in 2015, and while that's understandable, it can't be the case in his sophomore season if he and the Redskins are to find success in the run game.
"He just feels more comfortable," McCoy said. "That's a big step, an important step, to that translating to trust on the field."