Ronald Jones: The Missing Piece or Just a Miss? - Footballguys

A detailed look at Ronald Jones fantasy prospects in 2018. 

A 2-Down Dynamo

Ronald Jones II II was arguably the most impressive pure running back in college last year. Even if you disagree with that sentiment in favor of the consensus view (Saquon Barkley) or the SEC view (Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Kerryon Johnson), it's hard to argue Jones wasn't stellar playing alongside Sam Darnold and dominating Pac-12 competition. The only question with Jones -- and it's a significant one for fantasy purposes -- is whether he's a one-dimensional contributor. While his film leaves little doubt about his running ability, his receiving skills are at best an unknown and at worst non-existent. The Buccaneers used the 38th overall pick (second round) on Jones and clearly plan on him being a big part of their offense.

  • A dynamic runner who dominated against Pac-12 competition
  • An unproven receiver
  • A limited pass blocker
  • A wide-open depth chart on a Tampa Bay team desperate to improve the running attack (23rd last season)

In what could be a bumper crop of rookie running backs, Jones' fantasy outlook has a higher floor and lower ceiling than his classmates. The Buccaneers have little choice but to commit to Jones on first and second downs, but his unproven pass blocking and receiving guarantee roles for Peyton Barber and Charles Sims. It's very hard in today's NFL to vie for RB1 value if you're not a 3-down back, and even optimistic projections doubt Jones' 3rd-down role. Drafting Jones as an RB3 would be potent, but relying on him as an every week starter (i.e., RB2 or RB1) is a risky bet.


Jones' USC Stats

Year
Games
Rushes
RuYds
Yds/Ru
RuTDs
Recs
ReYds
Yds/Re
ReTDs
2015
14
153
987
6.5
8
7
39
5.6
1
2016
13
177
1082
6.1
12
11
76
6.9
1
2017
14
261
1550
5.9
19
14
187
13.4
1
Totals
40
591
3619
6.1
39
32
302
9.4
3

A Return to Balance

When Dirk Koetter took over as offensive coordinator in 2015, the Buccaneers ran the ball 455 times, 8th most in the league. Thanks to the stellar play of Doug Martin, Tampa Bay finished 5th in yards and 2nd in yards per attempt. In 2016, with Koetter taking over as head coach, Tampa remained committed to the run game. They ran the ball 453 times -- 7th most -- but the productivity plummeted. The team finished 24th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per attempt. Last season, the wheels came off completely thanks to inconsistent quarterback play, a terrible offensive line, and a porous defense. Tamp Bay ran just 390 times (26th) for 1,448 yards (27th) while scoring just 8 touchdowns (25th). In what's likely a must-win season, Koetter and the personnel department said goodbye to Doug Martin and drafted Jones.

With Jameis Winston suspended for off-field conduct detrimental to the league, the situation in Tamp Bay is tenuous. If Jones can make an immediate impression, it'll help offset the tension created by Winston's behavior.

Peyton Barber Is An Overhyped Challenger

A lot of analysts, including many fellow Footballguys staffers, are in love with Peyton Barber. The theory is because Barber was dubbed the starter in OTAs, he stands a chance to split touches with Jones. That's illogical. Barber was an undrafted free agent in 2016 and only found a role because of the Buccaneers desperate situation. In two seasons, Barber has averaged 5.3 carries per game and 4.0 yards per rush. And he's only caught 21 receptions in 31 games. If you looked up the word "pedestrian" in the dictionary, Barber's picture would be front and center. While Barber can be a complementary back, he's done nothing in two seasons to credibly argue for a timeshare with someone as talented as Jones.

In Jensen We Trust

The offensive line needs improvement, and the Buccaneers took two steps in the right direction this offseason. First, the team signed center Ryan Jensen to a 4-year, $42 million deal. Jensen played for Baltimore prior to this season at a Pro Bowl level. Second, they drafted powerhouse guard Alex Cappa in the third round of the draft. Cappa has a chance to start at guard with a strong camp, but Jensen will take over the center position without question. Those pieces, along with better health, should stabilize a unit that disappointed a season ago.

Defense Is a Runner's Best Friend

Tampa Bay allowed 382 points (22nd worst) and 6,049 yards (32nd) in 2017 and had a league-worst 22 sacks. The front office made huge moves in the offseason to fix things:

  1. Traded for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul
  2. Signed defensive end Vinny Curry
  3. Signed defensive tackle Beau Allen
  4. Signed defensive linemen Mitch Unrein
  5. Drafted defensive tackle Vita Vea in the 1st round
  6. Drafted cornerback Carlton Davis in the 2nd round
  7. Drafted cornerback M.J. Stewart in the 2nd round
  8. Drafted safety Jordan Whitehead in the 4th round

That's a lot of firepower for defensive coordinator Mike Smith to worth with; it would be stunning if the defense didn't improve by leaps and bounds. An improved defense is critical to allowing the offense to run a balanced, ball-control offense. There's a direct correlation between the defense's productivity and Ronald Jones II' stat line.

The Receiving Role is Doubtful, but Don't Worry About Jones' Blocking

As we've already discussed, Jones wasn't used much as a receiver. That isn't necessarily a condemnation, but he also struggled to catch passes in rookie camp and OTAs. With Charles Sims re-signed, the third-down role is his to lose. The team has a bevy of other short-yardage options in O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, and Chris Godwin. Jones could surprise as a receiver, but it's not something worth betting on. In order for Jones to be a force of nature on first and second downs, he has to impress the coaches in pass blocking during the preseason. Draft analysts vary wildly in their interpretation of Jones' collegiate blocking. Some believe it's a major deficiency. Others, like ProFootballFocus, view Jones as an above-average pass protector. The truth lies somewhere in between. Given his athleticism, lateral quickness, and work ethic, Jones should adapt to NFL blocking schemes better than his critics believe.

Projections

Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumLost
David Dodds
15.3
199
792
4.9
27.0
200
1.0
2.1
Bob Henry
16.0
200
850
4.0
23.0
180
1.0
2.0
Jason Wood
16.0
195
750
5.0
32.0
255
1.0
1.0
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
158
658
4.2
41.1
319
1.1
2.1

Final Thoughts

Jones is a physical specimen, and his 2017 game film was jaw-dropping at times. There's little question he can be an immediate contributor on 1st and 2nd downs, particularly if the offensive line gels. Assuming the defense's total overhaul leads to better game scripts, Jones can handle 15+ touches. Expecting him to contribute as a receiver is a riskier proposition, and there's still a risk -- albeit small -- his blocking skills limit his playing time. While Peyton Barber did yeoman's work last year, he's a pedestrian player in a part-time role. Jones' opportunity is only hindered by Jameis Winston's uncertainty and the lack of a receiving role. Without a clear path to playing in all downs and distances, Jones is best suited as a high-upside RB3 on draft day.


Other Thoughts from around the web

Scott Reynolds on Pewter Report.com:

Inside Analysis of Bucs Mini-Camp

"Peyton Barber is still the starting running back and will continue in that role into training camp. Barber is leaner and a tick faster this offseason and it shows once he gets to the second level. Rookie Ronald Jones II is an exciting, electric back, but doesn’t have the surest of hands. He needs more work on the JUGGS machine to have a chance at being more than a two-down back in his first year."

Matt Waldman in his Footballguys.com Player Notes:

"Jones has the vision and athletic profile to develop into an explosive starter, but does he have the offensive line to do it this year? Peyton Barber, Doug Martin, and Jacquizz Rodgers aren’t as explosive as Jones, but they all have enough quickness to produce in the league. If all of them were forced to work harder than they should be to find the creases, it won’t be any different for Jones if the line doesn’t improve. Long-term, I like Jones. Short-term. I have more to examine from last season before I elevate Jones or any Tampa back."

Shark Pool (Footballguys Message Board) Thoughts

Chaka"Jones has the talent and physique to be an every-down back, but it is possible that his career trajectory is more Ronnie Harmon than Thurman Thomas. He appears to be a fluid, if underused pass catcher, and more of a glider as a runner. There isn't much by way of long-term competition on the roster, but both Sims in the passing game and Barber in the running game have shown flashes of ability."

Dr. Octopus"Jones’ metrics are a bit concerning, however. While I'm generally not one to label a back as "too small" to carry the load, I do feel that only weighing 200 pounds at 6-foot is a little concerning. Making matters worse is the fact that he doesn't have elite speed to compensate for his slight frame. In fact, he only displayed average speed at the combine - even for a "normal" sized back. In that regard, the Jamaal Charles comparison seems a bit misguided."

TheDirtyWord"The red flags for me on Jones for 2018 have to do with his ability to carry 1) a significant workload 2) goal-line work 3) passing game work (easy yards). All of these are necessary for a running back to carry consistent game-to-game value. With Jones, these are all legitimate questions. Now - as with any rook, what you see and hear from training camp will matter. Dalvin Cook really skyrocketed during camp last year as it became evident that he was going to be the man. So I'll keep my options open here, but I'm in firm wait-and-see mode."


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