Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones set to ignite the offense

BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 11: Ronald Jones II #25 of the USC Trojans carries the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on November 11, 2017 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 11: Ronald Jones II #25 of the USC Trojans carries the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on November 11, 2017 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense just got a whole lot more explosive thanks to the first of their three picks in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

It’s been clear since December the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be targeting a running back early in the 2018 draft.

What wasn’t clear was which running back they would end up with. This year’s draft was packed with talented backs, so who landed with who was more difficult than usual to figure out.

Ronald Jones and the Bucs were not a match I predicted or particularly liked at first. His questionable pass-blocking seemed like a weird fit for a coach that put emphasis backs needing to protect the quarterback.

What I undervalued with Ronald Jones – and what the Buccaneers clearly value very much – is the explosive dimension Jones brings to the table.

The former Trojan has track-trained long speed and consistently ripped off long runs. Jones averaged 5.9 yards per game last season and averaged 6.1 yards per game on his three year college career, both remarkable numbers. The burst, and stop-start ability of Jones to spring long runs is quickly apparent when you turn on any of his game cut-ups, like the one below.

The  is an element that has been missing from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense for quite a long time – perhaps as long as Cadillac Williams, way back in the Gruden days.

With the Bucs, Jones is in an opportune spot to maximize his explosive potential. In Tampa’s offense he will be reasonably far down on opposing defense’s list of concerns.

DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, and the armada of other pass catchers on the Bucs will keep defenses keyed on the passing game, leaving plenty of room for Jones to gather yards in bunches with minimally stacked boxes.

Speaking of the passing game, Jones can also potentially help there, to a specific extent. As a pass catcher in college, Jones has an extremely brief resume; he caught just fourteen passes last season and 32 total in his three years at USC. Head coach Dirk Koetter addressed the limitation in his post-draft presser:

"“They didn’t throw him the ball very much. I think that’s a part of his game he’s going to need to improve on. His main thing, if you just watch his screen tape – they threw a lot of screens to him, a lot of slow screens and he did a nice job in that respect – but he’s not a guy that in their offense, they didn’t move him around that much. It was just basic running back routes.”"

As Koetter says, USC didn’t offer Jones many opportunities to catch passes through designed plays or even a short checkdown. In fact, when I was watching Jones I noticed that Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold had a strange aversion to dumping off to his running back and would instead try to pick up the yards with his legs or force it downfield.

This is all to say that I think Ronald Jones can actually be a difference-maker for Jameis Winston and the passing game. Even if he’s limited to screens and dump-offs with the Bucs, his superb ability to accelerate in a hurry and get flying down field is well-suited to screen passes and pitches, both of which the Buccaneers like to use.

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Though he doesn’t have the route running chops or natural hands that Charles Sims does, Jones runs with more juice overall and should be a massive upgrade in that regard. I expect Sims to still see playing time at the beginning of the season, but Ronald Jones and his explosive running talent will be tough to keep on the bench for an extended time. Jones will need to work on his pass blocking before he’s trusted with a full-time role, but I don’t expect his hands or even route running to hold him back very long.

Jones’ big play ability should vault him to the starting early down back rather quickly into camp ahead of Peyton Barber. Expect to see him in a similar role to Chicago’s Jordan Howard, who handles the early down work for the Bears with Tariq Cohen operating as the third down back. The good news for the Bucs? Ronald Jones is far more explosive than Jordan Howard, who has run for 2400 yards in his first two professional seasons.

Next: Buccaneers draft: Grading day two

For a Tampa Bay Buccaneesr team which ranked 27th league-wide in rushing yards, Jones should provide the big-play ability to help push them over the top to playoff potential. What do you think about the Ronald Jones selection, Buccaneer fans? Sound off in the comments below and continue to stay tuned to all of the Pewter Plank draft coverage!

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