Secret Superstars 2014: Bengals
In recent years, the Bengals have earned national praise for finding value in the draft. Since 2010, their drafts have yielded Secret Superstars such as Geno Atkins (fourth round) and Carlos Dunlap (second round), both of whom figure to play a major role for the Cincinnati defense once again in 2014. The Bengals hit on George Iloka at the end of the fifth round in 2012, and the Vontaze Burfict “risk” has turned out as well as anyone could have hoped.
The theme has clearly been defensive, looking at the Bengals’ history with our Secret Superstar series. But in 2012, when the Bengals had back-to-back picks at the end of the fifth round, they drafted Marvin Jones one pick before Iloka. Jones, best known for his four-touchdown performance against the Jets, saw his playing time dramatically increase down the stretch last year after playing in just 39.7% of the Bengals’ offensive snaps in the first half of the season. Coming into his own opposite A.J. Green, Jones is in line for a leap forward as a full-time No. 2.
Maximizing the Opportunity
As early as his rookie season, Jones flashed the kind of potential that had coach Marvin Lewis suggesting he was going to be a big part of some early game plans if not for a sprained MCL. After the injury, it took Jones a few weeks to get his feet wet. In his first game with full-time snaps, he struggled to a -1.8 overall grade. To this point, that’s the worst game he’s had as a pro, with just two other “red” games against nine total “green” games.
His most memorable game of 2013 came in Week 8. With a +5.7 grade, he shredded the Jets’ secondary to the tune of eight catches (on eight targets) for 122 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive in a vacuum, but Jones did it on just 19 snaps. He caught a touchdown pass against four different defensive backs. In Week 6 at Buffalo, Jones had his second best game, putting up a +3.3 grade on just 26 snaps. He had a relatively pedestrian day receiving compared with his Week 8 performance, but chipped in a 34-yard run and some good blocking in the Bengals’ screen-heavy gameplan.
Jones’ effort in 2013 can be summarized as efficient. He saw the field sparingly but finished the season with a higher grade than the much more frequently used A.J. Green. That’s not to say Jones doesn’t have some areas to improve, but he showed that he can produce – if he gets the opportunity to do so.
Rounding Out His Game
For all of his productivity as a playmaker, Jones -2.9 run blocking grade was among the worst in the league for receivers. Only Julian Edelman graded worse than Jones as a run blocker among receivers with at least 500 snaps. Jones had three games where he graded positively in screen blocking, but only one game in the positive as a run blocker. With Hue Jackson taking over the offense, the Bengals’ offense could be moving decidedly in a direction that asks more of its receivers in the blocking game.
When Jackson was the offensive coordinator in 2010, the Raiders finished second in the league in rushing yards and yards per attempt – and fourth in rushing attempts. Oakland didn’t have great run blocking from its receivers, but none of its receivers finished with a negative screen blocking grade and none were in the red as run blockers. Unlike the 2010 Raiders, the 2014 Bengals don’t figure to have much elite run blocking, but Jones and Green could both stand to improve in this area. Jones flashed the ability to be an effective run blocker in a few games in 2012, but his game would benefit greatly from improving with the Bengals’ offense likely shifting toward greater balance between running and passing.
Finding Enough Targets
In 2013, Jones was especially effective in the deep and left part of the field, where he caught seven of 10 targets for 193 yards and two of his touchdowns. But he also showed some wiggle after the catch, with his 13 broken tackles in the passing game ranking 10th among all receivers, most of whom had more chances. He didn’t drop a pass until Week 10 and finished with a very solid 5.5% Drop Rate.
The trend for Jones suggests more playing time is in the offing. Jones played only 50% of the Bengals’ snaps, though that number was higher from Week 15 through the Wildcard game. He finished the season strong with three straight games in the green, including the playoff game and finished the season with four more targets than Cincinnati’s other No. 2, Mohamed Sanu. And he saw those targets on 208 fewer snaps.
Jones ran 444 routes and was targeted on 17.3% of them. By comparison, Sanu ran 503 routes and was targeted on 14.5%. Green was the highest-utilized Bengals receiver, targeted on 24.5% of his routes. It’s reasonable to project 60 more routes for Jones based on his higher usage rate in the second half of 2014. Assuming his target rate stays at 17.3%, that’s another 13 targets. There’s also the possibility that he manages more targets per route run. With a rounded skill set that involves great hands, success as a deep threat, and the ability to make tacklers miss, Jones has a great shot at winning more snaps and targets in Cincinnati’s No. 2 receiver role.
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