Ronald Jones has a shot to be the starting running back in a Tom Brady-led offense. That alone is enough to make him worthy of a pick in Round 7. Jones topped 1,000 total yards in an up-and-down 2019, but there could be more opportunity in 2020. Brady has historically targeted his running backs much more than Jameis Winston has in the passing game. Jones will have to battle Ke'Shawn Vaughn for early down work, but with the abbreviated offense Jones is a strong favorite to start Week 1.
Coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that Jones will be the "main guy" in the Tampa Bay backfield, Scott Smith of the Buccaneers' official site reports. The competition for carries consists of rookie third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn and 32-year-old LeSean McCoy. The Bucs apparently expect Jones to hold both of them off for the lead role, but the team could still feature a committee backfield of sorts, potentially subbing in Vaughn or McCoy for some carries and Dare Ogunbowale or Raymond Calais in passing-down situations. Jones packed on some weight this offseason to prepare for a larger workload, reportedly getting up to around 225 pounds.
Jones likely will enter Week 1 as a starter, according to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine. Rookie third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn should still be in the mix for carries, but his shot at the lead role right out of the gate took a big hit after the NFL canceled offseason programs and preseason games. Jones has been preparing for the possibility of a much larger workload in his third NFL season, focusing on his pass-catching skills and bulking up to around 225 pounds. While he should have the initial advantage, Jones could lose ground in a hurry if he fails to impress early in the season. There's also a chance the Tampa backfield fails to provide a reliable fantasy producer altogether, especially if either Dare Ogunbowale or Raymond Calais steals a large chunk of the receiving work.
Jones is up to 225 pounds and has been working diligently with trainer Luke Neal on his pass catching this offseason, Luke Easterling of SI.com reports. The third-year back has some extra motivation in the form of the Buccaneers' selection of Vanderbilt product Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the third round of April's draft, with the latter certainly a threat to put a dent into Jones' workload. The projected competition aside, Jones was likely to focus on improving his pass-catching acumen this offseason anyhow, considering his limitations in that area last season often kept him off the field on third downs in favor of Dare Ogunbowale. Neal recently posted multiple videos of Jones working on his routes on his Twitter account, including one with the USC product running a deep post and making an impressive catch about 20 yards downfield.
Jones will have competition for carries in the form of rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn, whom the Buccaneers selected in the third round (76th overall pick) Friday night. Vaughn wrapped up his college career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Vanderbilt, and though he was clearly a tier below the top prospects at his position in this year's draft, he has the talent to push Jones and slide into the role vacated by the departed Peyton Barber. Jones has been the subject of praise on more than one occasion from general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians this offseason, and the selection of Vaughn isn't a referendum on the USC product's standing with the team by any means. In fact, Greg Auman of The Athletic believes the fact Tampa passed on drafting a back in the second round -- when the likes of J.K. Dobbins and Cam Akers were still available -- is a tacit endorsement of Jones. However, both Licht and Arians have also made clear that they're looking to ideally utilize two diverse tailbacks in their base offensive plans. Therefore, much like last season, Jones could find his carries frequently capped in the 15-to-17 range if Vaughn remains healthy and develops as expected.
Both GM Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians remain high on Jones' upside, although that won't preclude them from focusing on the running back position in the upcoming draft, Carmen Vitali of the team's official site reports. Licht was effusive in his praise of Jones during a Thursday conference call with reporters, noting the team thinks the third-year back "hasn't even scratched the surface of what he can be." That type of sentiment would have been virtually inconceivable with respect to Jones at this time last year, as the USC product was coming off an utterly forgettable rookie season in which he rushed for just 44 yards at a minuscule 1.9 yards per carry. However, Jones made significant strides in 2019, generating a 172-724-6 line on the ground that he complemented with 31 receptions. His work through the air supports the notion Jones is on the path to becoming a legitimate every-down back, but Licht notes the team will enter this year's draft still looking to fortify the position. "We have a lot of faith in Ronald, and in fact, we have more faith in him now that we ever have," Licht said. "But that's another position, as you can tell [when] you look across the league, some of the better teams they have one, two or three guys, sometimes four, that they can rely on in different roles in their offense."
|* indicates player did not play that week|
|WK||DATE||OPP||OPP RANK||OPP FPTS|
|1||09/13||@New Orleans Saints||5||13.24|
|4||10/04||Los Angeles Chargers||22||18.88|
|6||10/18||Green Bay Packers||26||21.22|
|7||10/26||@Las Vegas Raiders||15||17.38|
|8||11/03||@New York Giants||17||17.75|
|9||11/09||New Orleans Saints||5||13.24|
|11||11/24||Los Angeles Rams||19||18.00|
|12||11/29||Kansas City Chiefs||23||20.37|
|3 Year Avg||98||384||4||19||171||0||77|