My RB Spotlight series continues this week Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones II. The former second-round pick will be entering his 3rd season, and it is a pivotal one at that. After struggling mightily his rookie year, “RoJo” came on strong in 2019, showing the quickness and playmaking ability as a runner that made him an early Day 2 selection. He finished the year tallying 724 rushing yards on 172 carries, an average of 4.2 yards a carry. That is a vast improvement from his 2018 numbers: 44 yards on 23 carries, an average of 1.9 yards a carry. He also out-touched and out-produced the former starter Peyton Barber who finished with 470 rushing yards on 154 carries and a 3.1 average yards per carry. RoJo’s performance was enough to earn him the starting job entering training camp and regular season, per Bruce Arians.
If you are someone who plays fantasy… #Bucs coach Bruce Arians tells reporters that “Rojo’s the main guy. He’ll carry the load.” Arians added that LeSean McCoy should contribute in the passing game.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 5, 2020
If by some chance you haven’t heard yet, Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason as a free agent. Shortly after, Rob Gronkowski returned from retirement and joined him in Tampa Bay as well. Add them to the offensive talent already on the roster in the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, OJ Howard, and Cameron Brate and this offense has the potential to be one of the most dangerous units in the league with the only uncertainty being the offensive line. And what RoJo gives is an explosive dimension on the ground to complement the potent aerial attack.
But will despite being labeled as the starter, does that automatically mean he’ll be getting a full workload of touches? The answer to that relies on whether he’s capable of contributing on passing downs, particularly as a receiver. If he is then he’ll have the upper hand in getting most of the snaps during a game. But if he can’t then that will cut into his touches significantly.
We all know how much Brady loves using his running backs in the receiving game, and if he can’t trust RoJo as a receiver then it’ll be tough to justify having him out there on crucial downs. Dare Ogunbowale was the team’s designated passing-catching RB last year and he’s still on the roster. Ke’Shawn Vaughn was selected with the 76th overall pick in this past NFL Draft and many consider him to have enough versatility to be a factor in the passing game. And veteran LeSean McCoy was recently signed as a free agent, and even if he is past his prime, he still can contribute as a receiver and blocker. I’d be hard-pressed to believe that Brady and Arians wouldn’t turn to one of those players in a heartbeat if RoJo isn’t able to fill that role.
You would assume someone of RoJo’s explosiveness and quickness would already be a good receiving weapon, but that wasn’t the case even back in college. In 3 seasons at USC he only totaled 32 catches for 302 receiving yards. As mentioned earlier he struggled his rookie season and barely got playing time, but in 2019 he essentially matched his college production by tallying 31 catches for 309 receiving yards. Despite the boost, 31 catches in a season is still a stat he can improve on.
However, as I always say, “Stats without context are meaningless”. It’s important to look at RoJo’s 2019 film to see exactly how he performed as a receiver. It’s easy to look at his receiving stat line and not be impressed, but we need to dive deeper if we’re going to make a reasonable determination of what to expect of him in 2020.
RoJo didn’t get many receptions on a week-to-week basis but based on the few he did I could see a marked improvement as the season went progressed. He started to look more comfortable by the middle of the season and continued to get better. He was doing some of the little things well like plucking the ball with his hands away from his body, maintaining control of the ball at the catch point through contact, and transitioning from a receiver to runner seamlessly.
Something else I noticed was that RoJo didn’t have any reps lined up out wide or in the slot, but it’s not necessary to use him that way right now. RoJo will be fine running similar routes that he did in 2019, whether it be screens, flats, or option routes in the short area of the field. It’s better to make sure he’s doing those few things at a high level instead of putting too much on his plate and trying to have him do a ton of things at a lesser level.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) July 16, 2020
At this moment, the starting RB gig is RoJo’s. It’s up to him to do whatever he can to hold onto that job. Simply being the same RB he has been for the past 2 seasons won’t’ be enough, especially when you’re lining up in the backfield with Tom Brady. But if he can take his game to the next level and be a trusted dual-threat weapon for Brady he’ll have an opportunity to have a breakout season. And that’s something Buccaneers fans have been waiting for since the day he was drafted.