Arkansas QB Matt Jones has astonished NFL scouts and reporters by running sub 4.4 40s, vertical jumping 40 inches, standing broad jumpng over 10 feet, and exhibiting soft hands to boot during his stints at wide receiver in the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, and on-campus workouts. All of this comes packaged on a 6-6 1/2, 242 pound frame. Beyond the raw athleticism, he has shown an incredible ability to make big plays on the field. In a recent article by ESPN’s Chris Mortenson, ex-Florida coach Ron Zook noted,
“He was the best player in the SEC the past two years … Now that’s a mouthful. Think about the guys who have played in the SEC the past couple of years.”
A half dozen other SEC coaches and players echoed Zook’s views. Mortenson’s article addresses the dilemma facing NFL GMs and coaches,
“‘it’s going to be up to those people, especially some offensive coordinator, to think outside the box and figure out what to do with a guy like that,’ [Steve]Young said.
He didn’t know it at the time, but Young was talking about someone available in the 2005 NFL draft — a guy I believe is the best player in the draft. Matt Jones is that player. Yes, the Arkansas quarterback NFL evaluators have been struggling to figure out.”
‘You know, it’s funny,’ one AFC head coach told me last week. ‘We asked [Jones] about putting on some weight and playing tight end, and he made it clear that he thought it was foolish. He said, ‘So you want me to put on 20 pounds and be a 4.57 guy instead of a 4.37 guy? When you put that into context, you have to admit he makes sense. Match up a 6-6 guy who is that fast and athletic with great hands on any corner – even the tall ones – and how do you stop him?'”
Skill at innovating is rare. As Zvi Griliches (1957 Econometrica) showed with hybrid corn, innovations tend to disperse over time in an S-shaped pattern with a few foward looking people at the beginning, then some wise imitators following suit, then the herd catches on, and finally the footdraggers come on board. Bob Tollison, Bobby McCormick, and I (2002 AER) showed this pattern held true for the dispersion of black players in MLB. In my upcoming book, From the Ballfield to the Boardroom, I illustrate the same idea with the “West Coast Offense.”
The trouble with an individual player, such as Matt Jones, is that he is a unique resource, rather than part of a underutilized group such as black players or a new technology like the West Coast Offense. As Steve Young notes, most offensive coordinators will struggle to figure out how to use him. Kordell Stewart was a similar player. Of all his offensive coordinators, only Chan Gailey came close to making full use of his talents. It will be interesting to see who takes Jones and how effectively they use him.