Want one big reason why PFW rates the Cowboys to only move from 6-10 to 7-9 this season? Check out their ratings of running backs. The magazine grades players on a five point scale, with grades in the 4.0 to 5.0 range being "blue chip" players, who, in their words are "Pro Bowl quality players who consistently make big plays." Grades in the 3.0 to 3.99 range are for red chip players, defined as, "impact players who produce like starters but fall short in at least one area." Here is PFW's top 20:
Jones' scouting report lacks any major deficiency. In the magazine's words,
Limited much of last season by injury before he found the field and looked like the top rookie runner in the NFL. Changes direction with ease and has vastly superior instincts to his brother, Thomas. Has outstanding field vision and make-you-miss ability. Powerful legs to break tackles, good burst and balance. Doesn't have ideal size but stood up to a pounding down the stretch last season with 22 or more carries in each of the final seven games.
And those were productive carries too; Jones averaged 27 of them for 115 yards per game, a 4.3 yard average per carry.
This rating seems way too low for a guy who showed so much raw ability. But to be fair, Jones only played in eight games. What's more, PFW shows restraint in rating rookies. Ben Roethlisberger, despite his stellar season, was only rated 17th among quarterbacks, behind David Carr and ahead of Kerry Collins.
Based on skill, and taking into account that Dallas will use Jones a bit less per game this season, where would you rate him entering the season? I'd place him ninth, behind McAllister, but ahead of Martin, who I think will slip back to earth after his monster '04 at the age of 31. If he stays healthy and his o-line stays intact (read: Marco Rivera's back holds together), Jones is top-five material. He's seen the league now. He knows the speed of the game and has proven his hands are good. (This was the primary concern about his game last year.) His coach has complemented his improved knowledge of the game, so the Julius Jones of '05 should look that much more polished than last year's model.