7 Reasons to Sell High on Marvin Jones
The Bengals’ sophomore wide receiver has scored seven times this season, which includes a half dozen touchdowns over the last three weeks. Highlighting Jones’ recent run of success was a career-best eight-catch, 122-yard, four-touchdown day against the Jets in Week 8.
As fantastic as those numbers sound from a fantasy football perspective, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of Fantasy’s No. 11-ranked wide receiver.
Crazy? Maybe. But I have my reasons:
1. He doesn’t see the field very often.
Jones was targeted eight times this past week, but played only 18 snaps. That’s a problem. Through eight games, Jones is averaging 26.1 snaps-per-game. As a team, the Bengals are averaging 64.6. That works out to about 40 percent of the snaps.
Consider that, of the Top 65 wide receivers in terms of fantasy points this season, none have played a lower percentage of his team’s snaps than Jones. At 44 percent, Ted Ginn is next closest, and he’s No. 47 in fantasy points at the position.
Of the Top 46 fantasy receivers, which essentially covers everyone worthy of WR4 consideration, Jones is the only wideout in the league having played fewer than 55 percent of his team’s snaps. Eddie Royal had a similar touchdown run to start the season before fading off the fantasy radar. Royal is Fantasy’s No. 23 wideout and has played 62 percent of his team’s snaps.
If that doesn’t scream, “unsustainable”, I don’t know what will. But let’s continue…
2. The Bengals like their tight ends (yes, plural).
The Bengals drafted Tyler Eifert for a reason and that reason didn’t involve warming a bench. Cincinnati has had two or more tight ends on the field on a NFL-high 59 percent of their snaps this season. The Cowboys are next closest and, at 50 percent, are well behind in the category. Both players usually line up in-line, but Eifert has spent 30 percent of his snaps at wide receiver. Gresham is at 17 percent.
More tight ends means fewer wide receivers. The Bengals have had three-plus wide receivers on the field on only 40 percent of their 2013 snaps, which is fourth-lowest in the NFL. If you recall from earlier, Jones – the Bengals’ No. 3 wide receiver – has been in the game just 40 percent of the time. Math!
3. That’s not the only competition.
In addition to competing with Eifert and Gresham for snaps, Jones has had to deal with A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu. Green has been on the field for 482 snaps, while Sanu has worked 398. Sanu has played more snaps than Jones in each of the team’s eight games this year. The Bengals do throw the ball a hefty 73 percent of the time when Jones is on the field – common for No. 3 receivers – but Sanu has still run 112 more pass routes.
Meanwhile, slot man Andrew Hawkins is due back from short-term Injured Reserve this week. The underrated Hawkins figures to step right back into the wide receiver rotation. In 2012, he worked the slot on 84 percent of his snaps and caught a total of 53 balls for 548 yards and four scores. We know Jones is more of an outside receiver, but keep in mind that he does play some slot – 17 percent of the time to be exact. An absurd four of his eight slot targets have resulted in a touchdown this season.
4. This is A.J.’s offense.
Prior to Week 8, Green was averaging 10.6 targets-per-game (or 31 percent of the team targets). Jones was averaging 3.7 (or 11 percent).
In the Bengals’ Week 8 game, Green was targeted only six times (21 percent), while Jones saw what was easily a season high of eight targets (28 percent). Over the past two weeks – despite a massive gap in snaps and routes – the two wideouts are tied in targets. We see these types of aberrations with each and every team at some point during the season. Green is this team’s clear No. 1 offensive weapon and his targets are going to bounce back to the 30 percent mark. They will come at Jones’ expense. As will scoring opportunities, which brings us to our next item…
5. There’s no chance of TD sustainability.
I harped on this on Twitter and on the Fantasy Slant this week, but Jones’ bizarre touchdown production is guaranteed to regress in a big way. Jones is an impressive, but unsustainable six-for-six on end zone targets this season. Only four players in the entire league have caught six or more passes while inside the five-yard line this year. Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Wes Welker, and – you guessed it – Jones. The first three players have each been targeted in that area 11 or more times. Jones has seen only six.
In each of the Bengals’ first six games this season, Green had seen at least one end zone target in every game. He averaged a healthy 1.7 per-game, which powered him to the NFL lead in receiving OTD. Over the team’s last two games, however, Green has totaled one end zone target. Jones, meanwhile, has seen four over the past two games, which makes up for two-thirds of his 2013 total. Green is going to get his touchdown opportunities, and they will come at Jones’ expense.
Finally, Jones has scored six of the Bengals’ last 11 offensive touchdowns and an absurd 29.2 percent of his catches have ended in a touchdown.
6. The Bengals’ offense isn’t this good.
During the Bengals’ first five games of 2013, they averaged 2.0 offensive touchdowns-per-game. That’s below the 2.3 league average. Over their last three games (@Buf, @Det, vs. NYJ), they’re averaging 3.7. Over the past five years, the Bengals best season in this department was a 2.3 mark in 2012. You may recall that they had a similar strong touchdown run during the middle part of last year before cooling off in the second half.
Regardless, the Bengals sit at 2.6 offensive touchdowns-per-game this season, which is ninth best in the NFL. The first half has shown us that they’re a good offense, but not a great one, which suggests that their recent success is most likely an aberration.
Finally, I need to point out the Bengals recent pass:rush touchdown ratio. Prior to Week 5, the Bengals had scored five passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns in five games. Since that point, they have 11 passing and zero rushing scores. That is a fluke, especially when it’s the 12th run-heaviest team in the league. In 2012, 72 percent of the Bengals offensive scores were via the pass game. Including the recent 11:0 streak, they’re at 76 percent in 2013. The NFL average is 65 percent.
The Bengals will continue to lean towards more the pass in the touchdown department, but they aren’t going to average 3.7 passing scores per game like they have the past three weeks.
7. Health issues?
We’ve seen talented players struggle with injuries before. And Jones has had his share of durability issues already in his career. Prior to his Week 8 breakout, Jones missed a good chunk of practice due to an injured shoulder. Last season, he missed a quarter or so of the season after tearing his MCL. I almost didn’t include this because it’s certainly not a huge concern, but I figured it’s worth noting, especially considering his underwhelming 6’2/195 frame.
Devil’s Advocate: Why I could be wrong
As always, I’m playing the odds. And the odds favor Jones cooling off in a big way. But I’m not ignorant. Here are a few realistic items that could allow Jones to take a big step towards fantasy relevance.
It’s certainly possible that Jones and Sanu could swap snap counts. If Jones finds the field more often, he could make up for the inevitable drop in touchdowns by catching an extra ball or three every week. This hasn’t happened yet, and there’s been zero indication it will happen (hey, let’s remember that Sanu has now beaten out Jones for the No. 2 job in both 2012 and 2013). But, of course, it’s possible. PFF grades have Sanu rated 99th out of 108 qualified wide receivers. Jones sits seventh. Of all coaches, it’s extremely unlikely Marvin Lewis is checking our grades, but we’re betting his internal evaluations are showing similar results.
I also mentioned the team’s tight end-heavy philosophy earlier. Gresham has been awful as a run blocker and has, at times, been a headache for Cincinnati. If he loses the starting gig to Eifert, it’s possible they move to more three-wide sets. That would allow additional work for Jones and Friends.
The final possibility is the most unlikely one. Could the Bengals’ offense be taking a big step forward this year? We already noted that they’re Top 10 in the NFL in offensive touchdowns-per-game and a lot of that success has come recently. I highly doubt they can enter the same area code as the Packers, Saints, or Broncos, but if they do get close, a second fantasy-relevant wide receiver is a sure bet.
I have Jones at 24 receptions, 307 yards, and three touchdowns going forward this season. That assumes he misses close to one full game. If he makes it all eight games healthy, I have him at 27 receptions, 344 yards, and three scores. That puts him in the WR4 conversation, but nothing more. Jones may emerge as a fantasy force during the second half, but he’s going to need more playing time and continued luck in the touchdown department. The odds are against everything going his way. If he’s on my roster, I’m doing my best to sell high.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL