Ronald Jones Future Star or Potential Bust
After being selected with the sixth pick of the second round, 38th overall in the 2018 NFL draft. Ronald Jones appeared to be the new lead back In Tampa Bay. Fast forward just a few months and the former USC star was already being labeled a bust. I personally think it is way too early to make a call on a players career after just a handful of games and a few healthy inactives. It’s not like the Buccaneers had an elite offensive line for the rookie to excel behind. Pro Football Focus had the 2018 Tampa Bay offensive line graded 22nd overall, a drop from 17th where they finished 2017. Jones did have a terrible preseason rushing for only 22 yards on 28 rushing attempts for a 0.8 yards per carry average. He only caught 1 pass but turned it into a 37 yard gain as he displayed his explosiveness. He finished the 2018 campaign with only 23 rushing attempts for 44 yards and one touchdown averaging 1.9 yards per carry. Adding 7 receptions for 33 yards on 9 targets. I will review his strengths, weaknesses, current depth chart as well as his college production in an attempt to figure out if Ronald Jones was worthy of an early second round NFL draft selection only just fifteen months ago.
2015 - Rushing: 153/987/6.5/8 Receiving: 7/39/5.6/1
2016 - Rushing: 177/1082/6.1/12 Receiving: 11/76/6.9/1
2017 - Rushing: 261/1550/5.9/19 Receiving: 14/187/13.4/1
As you can see from his three years at USC he was an incredible runner with very little use as a receiver. He only caught 32 passes in his college career but showed positive progression increasing his receptions each season. His rushing totals are very impressive totaling 3,619 yards on 591 rushing attempts averaging 6.2 yards per carry with an incredible 39 touchdowns. He wasn’t the biggest back at 5’11, 205 pounds but if you watch his college film he played bigger than his size and isn’t afraid to take on defenders. His combine was less than impressive as he pulled up lame on his 40 yard dash (4.65) straining his hamstring. He worked out at USC’s Pro Day despite not being 100% healthy and posted an improved 4.48 40 time. My scouting report on Ronald Jones back in April was… Jones is a classic slasher with the wiggle and explosiveness to elude open field tacklers, and possesses the burst to break off chunks of yardage. He also has the ability to turn into a much more dangerous pass catcher than we was at USC. He will test well at the Combine, but there will still be teams concerned with how many touches he can handle. He's a big play threat with a chance to thrive at a high level wherever he lands.
Runs with desired level of calmness in the face of oncoming traffic.
Trusts blocking development and hides his cut intentions until the last second.
Plays with light, electric feet that are dynamic in tight quarters.
Elite ability to plant and accelerate.
Loose hips allow him to make rare cuts as sharp as 90 degrees.
Deadly stop start ability to elude linebackers trying to pace and mirror him.
Can find lanes out of traffic and to the outside track.
Maintains top speed and is able to string together elusive moves.
Has lower body wiggle to evade tackle attempts and slide by defenders.
Squares pads at point of impact for improved contact and balance.
Fights for every yard and almost always falls forward.
Had just two collegiate fumbles over 591 carries.
Wasn't prolific as pass catcher but is more than capable of a receiving role.
Willing to stand in and take punishment to offer blitz protection.
Relatively lean frame for three down role. (Not any more)
Could have limitations to his touches over the course of a full season.
Had a 275 touch 2017 campaign meaning he has some wear.
Interior vision can be a little inconsistent and will leave meat on the bone at times.
Lacks a broad base and initial contact balance could be an issue at next level.
Reactive runner who could still use a more fine tuned rush plan.
Can get too far downhill leaving himself limited escape routes.
Could improve his tempo and rhythm to set up cutbacks on stretch plays.
Takes too many punishing blows for his size in his quest for additional yardage.
Current Depth Chart (July 2019)
The Buccaneers depth chart is uninspiring to say the least, I wouldn't rule out an addition prior to the start of the 2019 regular season even if it's just for depth. With the uncertainty surrounding Melvin Gordon and the Los Angeles Chargers Buc's GM Jason Licht should be calling the west coast immediately. As far as the current depth chart I think it's wide open come training camp and the cream will rise to the top with Jones starting the season as the bell cow.
RB1: Peyton Barber - I feel like Barber is essentially a figurehead as the Buc's top back, he is terribly mediocre and was horribly inefficient last season averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. He is an NFL backup at best.
RB2: Ronald Jones - By far the most talented back on the roster, I truly believe it's just a matter of time until Jones is dominating touches in the Tampa Bay backfield.
RB3: Andre Ellington - Not even a lock to make the 53 man roster in my opinion, the 30 year old's best days are far behind him. Injuries have derailed a once promising career as he has only 165 touches over the past four seasons.
RB4: Dare Ogunbowale - If the former undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin makes the team it will likely be as a special teamer, and he is highly unlikely to receive offensive touches.
RB5: Bruce Anderson - Anderson is also undrafted, he is a rookie out of North Dakota state, and a favorite sleeper among many in the dynasty community. He offers intriguing upside on a thin depth chart but could very well be the next Jeremy McNichols.
Pre Draft NFL Player Comparisons
Jamaal Charles - (5'11, 199) Career Rushing Stats - Games Played 119, Rushing Attempts 1407, Yards 7563, YPC 5.4, TD's 44, Career Receiving Stats - Receptions 310, Targets 439, Yards 2593, YPR 8.4, TD's 20. Jamaal Charles was absolutely electric in his prime, and was an incredibly smooth runner. He possessed ankle breaking cutback ability, with phenomenal acceleration, Charles was a true dual threat back as he was an excellent receiver.
Devonta Freeman - (5'8 206) Career Rushing Stats - Games Played 63, Rushing Attempts 767, Yards 3316, YPC 4.3, TD's 30, Career Receiving Stats - Receptions 198, Targets 253, Yards 1605, YPR 8.1, TD's 7. Outside of his rookie season (2014) and last season Freeman has been incredibly productive and offers explosiveness and potential to score from anywhere on the field. As you can see from the stats he is an excellent receiving back, Freeman should have several more productive years ahead of him.
Jerick McKinnon - (5'9 205) Career Rushing Stats - Games Played 58, Rushing Attempts 474, Yards 1918, YPC 4.0, TD's 7, Career Receiving Stats - Receptions 142, Targets 191, Yards 984, YPR 6.9, TD's 5. McKinnon is a tremendous athlete who may not have reached his full potential as an NFL back. He has never truly been featured as an every down player for any length of time and I am intrigued to see what he could do if ever given a full time role.
Those are some impressive names to be compared to prior to entering the league, which may be part of the reason people were so quick to jump to conclusions regarding Ronald Jones.
The bottom line is this kid is just 21 years old and is immensely talented. He got off to a rough start in his career with a shaky preseason which undoubtedly had an adverse effect on his confidence throughout the regular season. Making him a healthy inactive in the season opener certainly didn’t help boost his morale either. It appears that the 2018 Tampa Bay coaching staff may have done more harm than good to his long term success mismanaging their second round investment. I have nothing against Peyton Barber or Bruce Anderson but neither of them are anywhere near the talent level of Ronald Jones. I feel it is just a matter of time until Jones is leading the Tampa Bay backfield in every statistical category. It just might come with a few growing pains along the way, which is to be expected from any young back. So stay patient with your 2018 first round rookie draft investment and don’t bail on him yet. He is likely to turn things around and all it may take is a big game or even a big play to kick start his young career and boost his confidence. I do not believe that he is the next Bishop Sankey who was also a second round draft pick who truly is a draft day bust. I included a video of some of Ronald Jones's college highlights just in case anyone forgot just how talented and explosive this young man is. Something that should help Jones is a coaching regime change in Tampa Bay, new head coach Bruce Arians has already given Ronald Jones a vote of confidence. Jones also came out and said that he is now up to 221 pounds after playing at 208 last season. "I’ve put on a lot of pounds of muscle," said the 2018 second rounder. "I’ve been training with my guy, eating four or five meals a day, protein shakes right after workouts. I’m bigger." Jones has been a standout this off season and should have a good chance to unseat plodder Peyton Barber as the Bucs' lead back early on. Some are looking at the added weight as a negative claiming he will be hindered by it as he is a speedy perimeter back. I however disagree with that, I already believed that Jones possessed a three down skill set with his only limitation potentially being his leaner frame. Now I feel that he will be able to run with more success in the interior running lanes, improving his ability to break tackles more consistently, as well as his contact balance. Jones now has a three down NFL workhorse frame now to go along with the talent to play every down, I really hope he ceases his opportunity and dominates touches in the Tampa backfield.