What's Going to Happen in the Tampa Bay Backfield? - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff offers thoughts on the Tampa Bay running back situation

Tampa Bay has one of many backfields where the roles are not clearly defined. Since running back is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, it's wise to get as clear a picture as possible on every backfield.

As soon as he was drafted, Ronald Jones II II was slotted by many as the Buccaneers' workhorse back. But Peyton Barber has gotten a lot of good press over the spring. Is Charles Sims a real threat as a third-down back? Can Jones take this backfield over?

Tefertiller: Jones will be a star if he can stay healthy. Barber is solid, especially in short yardage. Jones is underrated in PPR redraft leagues.

Bloom: Barber entered camp as the starter and will remain a good-sized part of the backfield to begin the season. Jones wasn't used much as a receiver at USC and reportedly struggled as a receiver in OTAs. Sims will be the third-down back to start, but UDFA Shaun Wilson (Duke) is generating some buzz as a contender for that role. The Bucs weren't in a huge hurry to re-sign Sims. Jones is electric and on the Felix Jones-Jamaal Charles continuum, so with a few big plays early, he could take over more of the work, but he'll have to earn it. This wasn't a great running game last year, but we don't know how much of that was due to Doug Martin's ineffectiveness. Jones ADP makes him a reasonable pick, although if Jones gets hurt or makes some rookie mistakes to get in the doghouse, Barber is workmanlike, efficient and could be quality depth.

Hester: As a low-end RB2/high-end RB3, Jones is risky until he or the team provide any indication that he's worthy of 15 or more touches per game. Barber is the incumbent. Even if that's a transparent maneuver to make the rookie earn his job, other promising rookies have failed similar tests. Even if Jones becomes the starter by title, Barber could retain specialty/goal line work. Teams love shoehorning their biggest backs into that role.

Sims' ceiling that of a third-down back, but when he's healthy, the team has given him that work. Jones' inexperience and Barber's skill set should lead to Sims maintaining that role.

Barber might be the best ADP value on the team. He's essentially free, being drafted outside of the Top 50 at the position. And there are two scenarios where he could pay off that price. First, Jones doesn't overtake Barber coming out of camp, leading to multiple startable games from Barber. Second, Barber retains goal line carries and is, at least, an unpredictable boom/bust option.

This backfield is a mess, though. And not knowing how the offense will perform without Jameis Winston for three weeks doesn't inspire the confidence to take a shot on it.

Waldman: I've been a proponent of Barber's talent since he was at Auburn. He's only 24, he's reportedly quicker and stronger, and he has two years of experience in the NFL where he has out-performed higher draft picks to earn his opportunity. We often look at 24-year-old NFL players as first-year players figuring out how to train and approach the game. Barber is figuring it out with two years of proven tape behind a bad offensive line and a turnover machine under center.

Ronald Jones II' receiving skills and pass protection are the big issues. We must remember that college all-star games, workouts, and team practices don't give us enough insight about a running back's ability to block. These sessions only cover the physical and technical side of blocking. The film room and meeting rooms cover the conceptual part and the hope is that these young backs absorb these details and perform them well despite only a few reps during 11-on-11's and limited opportunities during games.

Backs have to identify defensive front types, learn various pass protection schemes and how they fit with the offensive line, and they have to learn contingencies when defenses present looks that are unusual or don't match the protection scheme as simple as it's always drawn up. Jones isn't proven here. Barber was good enough in this area to earn playing time and will remain counted on in this capacity.

I don't think Barber is going to become a top-10 fantasy runner, but he's a lot like Spencer Ware -- a talented runner who, behind a good offensive line, can deliver top-15 production. The offensive line is the question mark here and I don't think the answers are promising enough to get excited about either option. Barber is the value and a guy who is slept on because he's seen as a plodder rather than a talented SEC back who left early because his mom needed financial assistance and he worked his way up a decent depth chart with limited opportunities.

As we've seen with many players, if Barber has truly gotten a step quicker now that he's figured out how to prepare, he could surprise as a top-15 back this year behind an improved line. For now, I think he'll earn enough carries to lead the Buccaneers and earn top-24 production and no worse than a top-36 value at the position.

Parsons: Peyton Barber begins the season as the de facto starter as Tampa Bay works their second-round pick, Ronald Jones II II, into the rotation with more touches. By the end of September, Jones' workload elevates to the point of being an intoxicating upside player, viewed by some as a 2018 title winner by late in the season.

However, Jones is not a workhorse profile with his 'tweener' build and lack of a three-down profile (receiving work in college was questionable at best and even ceded time to then-freshman Stephen Carr as the primary pass-catcher in 2017). Jones ramps up his volume by midseason but misses time with injury as a result. Peyton Barber takes over and is a solid mid-to-high RB2 to finish the season for playoff-bound fantasy owners.

Henry: I've struggled a bit with how I'm projecting Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones II. It's all too easy to project high upside rookies while overlooking the nuances of the role and whether they will a) have the time to develop and improve in these areas and b) learn the playbook and beat out their competitors in camp who are likely far ahead in both areas.

Barber strikes me as one of the most undervalued players anywhere in drafts right now. He is essentially their starter - as of now. Jones has to beat him out, demonstrate proficiency in pass blocking, route running, blitz pickup, learn the playbook, etc. Barber is motivated, a strong runner in his own right, and apparently leaner and ostensibly quicker/faster heading into this camp battle.

Sims is going to be there regardless as a pass-catching, third down specialist. If anything, he is yet another headwind for Jones, but less of an obstruction to touches and fantasy relevance for Barber.

The tipping point for valuation could come down to something as simple as red zone and goal-line usage. If Barber holds down early work, Sims third downs, and Barber owns the GL touches, then he is probably undervalued by 10 to 20 points (minimally). Jones could be a year out or take half the season to ascend whether by injury or he just starts popping and forces his way onto the field more.

Either way, Jones is being drafted at his rookie ceiling and Barber much closer to his floor. If the Bucs improve their short yardage game, the pie for the running backs could grow significantly, but they've scored 10 or more rushing touchdowns just one in five years and only twice in their last eight.

I like Jones a lot, but I'm not landing him in any drafts, but I am picking up some late round shares of Barber, particularly when I'm not starting my draft with running backs in the first two rounds.

Simpkins: I'm in agreement with most of what has been said here. While Jones is a fine dynasty pick, I feel we are still a year away from seeing the best of what he has to offer. I would make Barber a late-round priority pick. Even if the Buccaneers stay stuck in the mud as a team, the volume that Barber could get could easily make him a fine flex play on most weeks. If they are more productive than we think, that could vault Barber into RB2 territory.

Wood: The pass blocking is the issue for Jones. If he can’t figure it out, the team will use a committee and none of them are interesting in redrafts, at least as guys you can hope to plug into your lineup as more than bye week flex options. Tampa Bay is on the cusp of collapse, I fear, and Winston’s suspension isn’t helping. If Winston can keep his head on straight, I like the idea of Tampa’s offense blossoming. But that only happens if Winston matures and Jones lives up to his draft price. Peyton Barbar is a quality backup-level running back, but if he sees 40%+ of the team’s snaps, it’s because Jones’ flopped not because Barber is that good.

Hicks: The situation in Tampa Bay reminds me of Miami a few years ago in Kenyan Drakes rookie season. Ronald Jones II may ultimately be a better prospect than Drake, but both needed development before coming into the NFL. Both had average backfields ahead of them for the job, but no sane coach is going to plug in a back who can’t pass protect or needs work on their fundamentals. As the staff member with the highest ranking on Jones this year, I would expect Jones to learn quicker than Drake was able to do, but we are going to learn a whole lot more during training camp.

Both Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers have the ability to keep a running game moving but are clearly bridge runners until Jones is ready. Charles Sims is well below average running the ball, but if no other back can show an ability to catch it out of the backfield, he almost wins this by default.

Ultimately this running game hangs onto how quickly Ronald Jones II is ready to handle a workload. There is no doubt that when he does, he will be electric. Much will be made of his size, but there have been numerous examples of backs of this size, having long and successful careers.