The Curious Case of Thomas Jones

Michael NixdorfContributor IDecember 5, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:  Thomas Jones #20 of the New York Jets against the Carolina Panthers at Giants Stadium on November 29, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

As Thomas Jones nears the close of his 10th NFL season, one can only speculate how much he has left in the tank. And I would bet the only person that truly knows that answer is Thomas Jones himself. His career can be defined as unconventional, puzzling, and absurd to name just a few.

Many will agree that this is what makes him such a fascinating player. Things did not come easy for Thomas Jones who has struggled countless times throughout his career at the NFL level. However while most running backs careers wind down around their 30s, Jones seems to finally be in his prime.

In college Thomas Jones was a highly regarded prospect out of the University of Virginia. Many considered him the best running back in that draft, and not surprisingly he was chosen in the top 10 by the Arizona Cardinals.

In his three years with Arizona he never got a shot at starting, forced into a backup role in a very poor Arizona offense. He rushed for 1,264 yards and 9 touchdowns; however he was often injury-prone, and never reached his potential.

Many critics were quick to label Jones as a "bust." Having lost faith in their former No. 1 pick, the Cardinals traded Jones to the Bucs for young receiver Marquise Walker, who is best known for not being known at all.

It was in Tampa Bay that Jones salvaged his career. In his one year with the Bucs he rushed for 627 yards on on 137 careers posting a 4.6 average and 3 touchdowns. The season was enough to spark interest in Jones when he entered free agency after that year.

The Chicago Bears signed Jones and he would get his first shot at being a starter in the NFL. In 2004 at the age of 26 Jones rushed for 948 yards in 14 games. In the years to come Jones would leave the term "bust" behind, and become a model of consistency in the NFL.

He went on to rush for 3,493 yards in three seasons with the Bears before being traded again to the New York Jets (in exchange for a second round pick swap). Chicago had been expected to move Jones because the Bears front office decided that first round pick Cedric Benson would get his shot at being the guy in Chicago. The Jets coming off a 4-10 season were more than happy to take Jones off of the Bears hands.

The Jets signed Jones to a three-year deal upon arrival, however Jones did not perform as expected at first. In 2007 Jones experienced a difficult season with the Jets. Surpassing 1,000 yards but needing 310 carries (a 3.6 average) to do so, while only finding the end zone once on the ground, and once in the air.

Considering most running back's careers wind down around age 30, at 29 many speculated that this was the end of Thomas Jones. Jones was quick to put these rumors to rest, stating he'd work harder than ever before that off-season.

In 2008 Thomas Jones shocked the football world and won the AFC rushing title and scoring 15 total touchdowns. All at the modest age of 30 years old. It seemed every time someone counted Jones out he proved them wrong.

At the start of 2009 no one expected Jones to repeat his 2008 season. Many looked at the rest of Jone's career and said it was a fluke season. Many fantasy projections stated "If you are targeting Jones use caution based on his age, injury history, and the possibility of Washington seeing an expanded role in 2009."

After sitting out of training camp in a contract dispute Jones did not help his draft stock. On NFL Network he was rated as the 51st best fantasy player in 2009. No one expected Jones to come near his 2008 production, no one except my dad that is, who reached on Jones in the second round of our fantasy draft (While Ronnie Brown and Brandon Jacobs were still on the board).

Well Jones put his critics to rest once again, becoming one of only three active running backs to surpass 1,000 yards for five consecutive seasons, joining LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson. He did so with an 109 yard performance against the Buffalo Bills this past week.

At this rate Thomas Jones is projected to rush for 1424 yards and 12 touchdowns by the end of 2009, which would be best his 2008 season. So the Jets are left with an interesting scenario; what do you do with a guy entering the final year of his contract who's career defines all logical odds.

Every time someone writes off Jones he proves them wrong. The ageless wonder (who turns 32 in August) just seems to be getting better as he gets older. This surely is the curious case of Thomas Jones.