Although the Redskins probably aren’t done tinkering at running back, there’s no question who’ll shoulder the load in 2016, according to Coach Jay Gruden.
It’s going to be Matt Jones, the team’s third round pick in 2015.
Gruden said the team’s confidence in Jones is the reason Alfred Morris is no longer in Washington.
“Matt played well and we're very excited about him,” Gruden said at the NFL owners meetings this week. “We let a heck of a running back, and a very productive running back, go because we have Matt.”
Jones had an inconsistent and injury-plagued rookie season. Big games were often followed by unproductive ones. He finished with a subpar 3.4 yards per carry and he lost four fumbles. He also missed a total of four games due to injury.
But Jones’ size—he’s listed at 6 foot 2, 231-pounds—plus a handful of eye-popping plays last season have Gruden and his assistants hopeful that a strong offseason could lead to a breakout year for the Florida product.
“We need him to protect the ball a little bit more,” Gruden said. “He’s a big, strong, powerful back that I think can handle the workload; time will tell on that. We’re taking a bit of a gamble here, but based on our professional opinion, we believe he can handle it and be very, very effective at it, toting the rock.”
Asked if Jones will indeed assume the No. 1 role, Gruden said: “That’s what we envision, yes. He's got the size. I mean, he's got the measurables, that’s for sure. That doesn't always translate, so we’ll see. We like Matt. We think he’s a smart football player and he runs very, very hard. Now we just have to make sure the ball security is there [because] he can catch the ball out the backfield. He's a very good solid football player that we have high hopes for.”
Gruden also said he expects the 23-year-old to be 100-percent when the team’s offseason program begins next month. In January, Jones had a minor procedure to correct the hip ailment that caused him to miss the final two regular season games and the Wild Card loss to the Packers. (He was sidelined for a game earlier in the season due to turf toe.)
“Yeah, he had a good surgery, man,” Gruden said. “We’re excited about Matt and glad he got it taken care of. You could see it bothering him a little bit down the stretch and you’re wondering, ‘Is there really anything wrong with him or not?’ And you find out there really is, and we got it fixed and addressed and I think he’ll come back ready to roll.”
As for the depth chart at running back, it’s Jones … and then a lot of questions.
Gruden said free agent Pierre Thomas, a late-season acquisition, remains on the Redskins’ radar. There’s also Chris Thompson, who told CSN recently that he expects to be sidelined until training camp after undergoing shoulder surgery. And then there’s Silas Redd Jr., who missed last season with a serious knee injury, and the unproven Mack Brown.
Given all that, Gruden said he expects GM Scot McCloughan to make an addition in the coming weeks, either via free agency or the draft.
"We have Matt and Chris and Silas and then we have the draft coming up," Gruden said. "There are some free agents that we’re still very much looking at. So it’s a matter of timing. When do you want to do it? We might sign a free agent here in the next couple weeks, or we might wait until after the draft to see how we address it in the draft.”