Sleeper Alert: Bengals WR Marvin Jones

Sleeper Alert: Bengals WR Marvin Jones

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last update Aug 11, 2014

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John Paulsen on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Update (8/11): Marvin Jones has a broken bone in his foot and is going to be out "a few weeks" or longer depending on whom you believe. His ADP is going to tank, but if your league has big rosters or an IR slot, he's worth a late-round pick if it looks like he'll be back by midseason.

Remember that guy who scored four touchdowns against the Jets in Week 8 last season? Did you know he did it in only 18 snaps? What if I told you that he is entering his third year and is coming off a #21 finish in standard formats (#29 in PPR)? Did I mention that he accomplished all of this while playing less than 50% of his team’s snaps? Oh, and he’s poised for a big jump in playing time. What if I told you his ADP is lingering in the 11th round as the 50th receiver off the board? Is this a player you would be interested in?

His name is Marvin Jones and you should be interested. I have him ranked #34 in standard and #35 in PPR, and I’m significantly high on him relative to his General Consensus (GC) ranking (#50), which is in line with his ADP. Jones is one of our top Draft Day Bargains and I’m trying to draft him wherever I can.


Who Is Marvin Jones?

He played at Cal (suffering through suspect quarterback play) and caught 112 passes for 1,611 yards and seven touchdowns in his final two seasons there. He was drafted in the 5th round after running a 4.46 40-yard dash at the Combine. He stands 6’2” (or 6’1” depending on the source) and has huge hands (10 ¼”). Here’s a look at his measurables, per Mockdraftable.

Other than the fact that his vertical is not much better than mine (was, in my 20s, when I could sort of still jump), his measurables stack up pretty well.

After catching just 18 passes for 201 yards and a TD as a rookie (playing 34% of the snaps), he saw a larger role as a second-year player. He posted 51-712-10 in a part-time role, sharing WR2/WR3 duties with Mohamed Sanu. He played just 48% of his team’s snaps.

He was a fantasy WR2/WR3 (depending on format) thanks to his incredible 1.64 FP/target (FP/T), which was #3 in the league among all receivers with at least 30 targets. His Rec % (63.8) was good given his Yards Per Reception (14.0).


Why Is He Being Drafted So Late?

Here’s what I’m hearing from the anti-Jones crowd:

New OC Hue Jackson wants to run the ball!
While true, Jackson’s propensity to run is being overstated. The Bengals passed it 55.0% of the time in 2013 and Jackson’s 2011 Raiders (with Carson Palmer at quarterback) passed it 52.9% of the time. That equates to 22 fewer pass attempts over the course of a full season when divvying up the Bengals’ 2013 split. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker.


He scored all of his fantasy points in one game!
There is a perception that without his eight-catch, 122-yard, four-TD effort against the Jets, Jones wouldn’t even be fantasy relevant. Let’s take a look at his game log…


Marvin Jones 2013 Game Log

Opp Wk Rec Yds TDs Targets Rush Yds Snap %
CHI 1 1 7 0 2 1 14 29%
PIT 2 3 35 0 4 0 0 29%
GB 3 3 38 1 4 0 0 54%
CLE 4 0 0 0 3 0 0 56%
NE 5 2 39 0 2 1 8 53%
BUF 6 3 71 1 5 1 34 30%
DET 7 4 57 1 6 0 0 42%
NYJ 8 8 122 4 8 0 0 32%
MIA 9 4 66 0 7 0 0 54%
BAL 10 1 2 0 7 1 7 69%
CLE 11 1 9 0 2 1 -1 37%
SD 13 2 12 0 3 0 0 39%
IND 14 3 60 1 4 1 -3 39%
PIT 15 5 48 1 9 0 0 71%
MIN 16 6 85 0 7 2 6 66%
BAL 17 5 61 1 7 0 0 59%
SD 18 8 130 0 11 0 0 78%
  Totals 59 842 10 91 8 65 50%


Note that I included his 8-130 playoff outing against the Chargers. I think it’s important when evaluating young and/or inexperienced players that we have as large of a sample size as possible. (Besides, 8-130 doesn't hurt my argument one bit.) It also speaks to how the Bengals were using him at the end of the season.

If I remove the playoff game and his spectacular outing against the Jets, he averaged 2.9 catches for 39 yards and 0.40 touchdowns. That extrapolates to 101 fantasy points, or about what James Jones scored as the #41 receiver in 2013. Let me remind you that (Marvin) Jones is currently the 50th receiver drafted, so even if we disregard his two “best” games (8-122-4 vs. the Jets and 8-130 vs. the Chargers), he’s still offering good value at his current ADP.

Look at how Jones fared in the final five games of the season, including the playoffs. He averaged 5.4-77-.60, or 11.3 fantasy points per game. That’s about what Jordy Nelson scored as the #11 WR last year. Based on how well he was playing at the end of the season, Jones should be going much earlier in fantasy drafts.


He’s not even guaranteed a starting role!
While technically true, all indications are that Jones is going to see starter’s snaps. I asked Cincinnati Enquirer writer Richard Skinner if Jones was the clear WR2 and he said that while Mohamed Sanu "has looked really, really good" there is "no doubt" that Jones is the team's WR2. The team released its first depth chart, and Jones is listed as the starter opposite Green. Here are a few other supporting statements:

Cincinnati Enquirer (July 17): “ A full year of Jones on the field most plays and a burgeoning relationship with Andy Dalton could mean a massive spike in production from his 51 receptions for 712 yards. (May 23): Hue Jackson discussed the team's receiving corps... "I want (A.J. Green) to take it to a whole different level. I want A.J. and (Marvin Jones) and that receiver group to play uncommon football like you’ve never seen… Marvin Jones came on like gangbusters and he’s got to go chase A.J. Why not knock A.J. off the pedestal?” 

So not only is Jackson mentioning Jones’s name second when discussing his receiving corps, he even said that Jones needs to chase A.J. Green and try to knock him “off the pedestal.” This is not something that a coach says when the player hasn’t even earned starter’s snaps. Marvin Jones is going to play a lot more this year.

Back to his game log. When we only include the games in which he played at least 50% of the snaps (a very low threshold for a starting receiver), Jones averaged 3.8-52-.33, or 7.4 fantasy points per game, about what Kendall Wright scored as the #30 WR last season. (That subset doesn’t include his four-TD game, mind you.)

When we raise the bar to 58% (still low for a starter), his averages jump to 5.0-65-.40, or 9.2 fantasy points per game, about what Julian Edelman scored as the #18 receiver in standard formats. It’s no coincidence that of those five games, four came in the final month of the season (and postseason). The Bengals finally realized what they had in Jones and they started using him accordingly.

In the final four games, he averaged 68.5% snaps played and I would expect at least that much playing time heading into 2014. The typical WR2 plays 70-86% of the snaps, depending on scheme, personnel, etc. Here's small sample of five receivers in similar situations (clear cut WR2 with no significant injuries to WR1/WR2 in 2013): Alshon Jeffery (91%), Riley Cooper (89%), Brian Hartline (89%), Eric Decker (87%) and Michael Floyd (86%). So there's quite a bit of upside for Jones, though I would expect him to fall in the 75%-80% range given historical usage and how much the team would like to use Sanu.


The Metrics vs. Game Film

You may be saying, the metrics are great, John. But I’m a film guy! How does he look on tape?

I recently watched all but a handful of his targets in 2013 and came away impressed:

  • The Bengals use him all over the field, from end-arounds to bubble screens, to slants, to crossing routes to post patterns. He can do it all.
  • I only saw two drops; if the ball came into his catch radius, he was probably going to haul it in. (Remember, his hands are huge.)
  • They really like to use him in the red zone. There is so much focus on Green that Jones usually has a one-on-one matchup, and Andy Dalton likes to take advantage. No, he may not score 10 touchdowns again, but given his probable jump in playing time and his propensity to see red zone targets, I wouldn’t bet against it.


Where should he be drafted?

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it?

We show his ADP at 10.06 in 12-team leagues. Since July 1, he’s going 11.09 in the best ball leagues at MyFantasyLeague. At Fantasy Football Calculator his ADP is sitting at 11.07, rising in recent weeks only to fall due to a recent ankle injury. This injury may be a blessing in disguise for fantasy owners looking to target Jones in the late-middle rounds, though he has recently been activated from the active/NFI list, so he should be at practice soon.

He’s being drafted as a WR4/WR5, but I’d feel comfortable starting him as my WR3 in Week 1 provided he returns to practice in a timely manner. I could justify drafting him in the 8th round, but unless you're drafting against a fellow 4for4 subscriber, you can probably wait until the 9th or 10th round to scoop him up.

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