NFL Free Agency 2016: Marvin Jones Will Thrive Away from Cincinnati Bengals

Most wide receivers in the NFL rely on one specific area of their skill set to be effective. If you’re Alshon Jeffery, you have to win at the catch point, relying on your length, ball skills and strength to fend off defensive backs on deep balls. Whereas if you’re Julian Edelman, you avoid those situations by relying on your quickness and acceleration to find space.

If you go through every receiver in the league, you will likely be able to fit them into either category even if not perfectly.

The best receivers in the league are typically the guys who can do both. The shorter receivers who can still dominate their opponents at the catch point because of their athleticism and ball skills, Antonio Brown for example. Or the bigger receivers who possess the fluidity and quick feet to run routes like their counterparts who carry 20 or 30 fewer lbs, your Brandon Marshalls of the world.

Receivers who enter the league without one outstanding trait to rely on typically struggle to be productive. They become tweeners because they are stuck without a way to win.

Marvin Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals looks like a tweener. He doesn’t always snatch the ball out of the sky away from tight coverage, instead too often trying to catch the ball into his body which negates the natural wingspan of his frame. He also doesn’t run routes with extreme precision or quickness. Jones isn’t a quality starting receiver at this level because he doesn’t fit a mold.

At least, he isn’t in theory.

What separates the 6’2″, 198 lb receiver from most of his peers is the overall level of his skill set. Even though Jones lacks that one truly special trait as a receiver, he is so good at so many different things that he can easily compensate for that limitation.

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This play comes from the Bengals’ first matchup of the season with the Baltimore Ravens. The gif has been slowed down specifically so you can look at the steps Jones takes in his routes. When he releases from the line of scrimmage, he directs his hips so that he is angling towards the cornerback’s outside shoulder before turning back inwards after advancing three yards downfield.

For all intents and purposes, this is a slant route. The cornerback is sitting back in off-coverage so he can read the receiver widening his route before breaking back infield. Jones knows that this is what the cornerback is seeing because that is what he wants him to see. He breaks the slant action off with one hard step that allows him to swerve back towards the sideline without losing speed.

As soon as he has made that change of direction and aligned himself so he can run parallel to the sideline, Jones flips his head back towards his quarterback. He is now in the perfect position to read the flight of any pass that Dalton throws his way.

The cornerback had fallen down but recovered relatively well to put himself in position to run with Jones down the sideline.

When Dalton threw his pass, he wasn’t going to lead Jones towards the endzone but rather create a backshoulder situation where the cornerback couldn’t locate the ball and it was Jones’ job to work back to it. He is able to complete the catch and fend off the attention of the defensive back, but importantly he waits for the ball to come into his body while diving with his momentum.

In a perfect situation, Jones would have been able to accelerate further downfield before planting to jump back through the ball rather than jumping into the defender and waiting for it to come down to him. It’s not an easy play to make, but it’s one that the receivers who thrive at the catch point would expect to make more comfortably.

Jones still held onto this ball because of his overall strength, but body catching is an issue for him that will cause him to miss out on some plays that he should make.

Focusing on what Jones can’t do is a mistake though. As the above play shows, he has a lot of physical ability and isn’t short of technical prowess. If you require him to beat press coverage or make contested catches between zones he will do it. His ball skills are inconsistent, but he can also make spectacular plays on the ball when it is in the air too. That is something he showed off on two other occasions in that same game against the Ravens.

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This play comes against press coverage but the cornerback doesn’t look to aggressively engage Jones off the line of scrimmage. Instead, the cornerback is mirroring the receiver, putting himself in better position to track him through his route. Jones runs a perfect route here.

He is aggressive in pushing the route downfield to force the cornerback to turn and accelerate with him. This puts the defender in a perilous position to turn with Jones when he cuts back towards the sideline to complete his comeback route.

Jones is quick and decisive in his break. He gets outside cleanly and offers his quarterback a huge throwing window to hit. His quarterback does everything he can to try and miss that window.

Dalton’s pass is wayward, something that was way too regularly for the quarterback even last season. It didn’t matter though because his receivers all offered wide catch radiuses. Jones shows his off here by extending to pull the ball in while dragging his feet to assure himself of the reception.

Even though he had space to step into, Jones recognized that he needed to drag his feet to reach the ball without stepping out of bounds. It’s important for a boundary receiver to have his hands and feet working in concert, Jones’ were on this occasion.

That wasn’t his most impressive play in the game though. His most impressive came in the fourth quarter, when the Bengals needed a play to salvage a victory.2016-03-02 01_21_23

One of the more frustrating young receivers in the NFL is Cordarrelle Patterson. The reason being is that he is physically very talented and plays aggressively when he has the ball. Yet when he runs routes, he refuses to use his upper body or show strength against contact. Upper body strength and hand usage is important for a wide receiver even if it’s not discussed very often.

In the above give, you can see Kyle Arrington attempt to knock Jones off balance as he releases in his route. Jones shows good strength while using his inside arm to fight off that action before releasing downfield.

The receiver isn’t finished with his hand usage there though.

Dalton releases the ball early in this route but the ball is arcing high so it’s not arriving quickly. This gives Jones time to work with. The receiver extends his inside arm without directly engaging the cornerback so as to avoid a pass interference penalty. He then leans in so that he is preventing the receiver from accelerating into a position alongside him.

Jones is manipulating the defensive back with his upper body while tracking the ball through the air. This requires strength, size and balance, but it also puts Jones in a position where he has to catch the ball with one hand. If he had simply run alongside the cornerback without manipulating him, he could have used both hands to catch the ball but would have given the defender a chance to play it in the air.

Whenever a receiver makes a one-handed catch it’s impressive, but receivers also need to walk a fine line. Some receivers try too often to make one-handed catches when they can use two. Jones was forced into a position where he had to use just one hand to catch the ball on this play and he did so perfectly.

It was a spectacular catch, one of his most impressive of the season. Not to mention one of his most important.

At 25 years of age, Jones is entering free agency as probably the best available receiver. He doesn’t have a huge amount of experience or production behind him because of who he played for and his various health issues. Playing in Cincinnati naturally suppresses your output because the ball is shared between so many quality players. Jones shouldn’t have any issue producing outside of that more favorable on-field situation though.

Being a receiver with such a well-rounded skill set makes Jones a good fit for most teams. Anyone who needs a receiver of any kind should be interested in acquiring him.

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