The Buccaneers need to take drastic measures with their running back room.
The Buccaneers currently don’t have an answer at running back. For a unit that looked primed to be substantially better than it was last season, the running back room has actually taken a huge step back this year.
Ronald Jones can’t block, Leonard Fournette is inconsistent with his vision, and Giovanni Bernard can’t get on the field. None of these negatives should shock anyone other than Bernard, and the run game suffers as a result.
Starting with Jones, he has likely shut the door on his future in Tampa. Missed blocks are already a huge problem in a Bruce Arians offense, and Jones has struggled with this part of his game for his entire career so far. When you add in dropped passes and a tendency for fumbling the ball, smart money is on this being Jones’ last season in Tampa.
Fournette is a much more complete back than Jones as a runner, blocker, and passer, but his performance at times has just been mediocre as a runner. The major issue in Fournette’s game right now is his vision, and there are plenty of moments over the past year where he avoids the wide-open holes created by his line and instead runs into a mass of humanity. We even saw it on display yesterday more than once.
Finally, Giovanni Bernard can’t even get on the field. This comes as a significant shock considering his ceiling as a pass-catcher and as a blocker, but clearly the coaching staff isn’t sold on him if he can’t get playtime in a unit that is struggling so much.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been a non-factor to start the season.
Four running backs. One major problem. No perfect path forward. The Bucs can just stay the course and hope their room starts to improve down the stretch, but sometimes, dramatic problems require dramatic solutions.
How to fix the Buccaneers running back room
Step one has to be trading Ronald Jones. Bruce Arians couldn’t be more explicit in how he sees his “starting back” through usage and other acts, and holding onto Jones to let him walk at the end of the season makes no sense.
If Tampa can find any compensation for Jones, which they should be able to do, they need to pull the trigger.
The next step in this plan involves moving Giovani Bernard to the top spot and keeping Leonard Fournette in the second or third. Bernard is a much better pass catcher and blocker than Fournette, and the Bucs rely on the pass more than the run anyway.
Bernard was a consistent runner during his time with the Bengals, and his vision right now has to be better than Fournette’s.
Fournette can still get decent snaps and provide depth in the playoffs, but his vision has to be better if he wants to be the top guy in this backfield.
Finally, Tampa will need a replacement for Jones. The free-agent market still has plenty of names to look for, even if some of them are washed up. If you want to go older, Adrian Peterson. Le’Veon Bell could become available if the Ravens lean into their starters. Todd Gurley looks like a shadow of what he once was and is out of the league with reason, but maybe he can do what Bruce Arians wants better than Jones.
Regardless of who they take, the Bucs would need a replacement for Jones if they move on from him, and that does seem like the smartest move if the past two games are any indication of where this season is going.
The run game isn’t a huge reason of concern for a team that is so proficient throwing the ball, but no one would deny that changes aren’t required. There is a time for staying the course and hoping everything will work out. That time is not when your team is looking for its second Super Bowl win in two years.
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