What You Need to Know:
-- Jones’ volume and production grew in both the rushing and passing games in his 2nd NFL season.
-- He finished 25th among RBs in PPR points; 27th in non-PPR.
-- Jones has new competition in 3rd-round rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who beats Jones in Speed Score and college receiving production.
No Breakout Yet
After basically redshirting as a 2018 rookie, Jones saw his playing time and opportunities increase dramatically last season. He went from 2.6 carries and 1 target per game his 1st year to 10.8 and 2.5 in 2019.
Jones tallied a strong 10.0 yards per catch on his 31 receptions. Pro Football Focus graded him just 73rd among all RBs in receiving. He fared better by Football Outsiders metrics, though, ranking 17th in DVOA and 20th in DYAR among 50 qualifying backs.
PFF liked his rushing better, grading Jones 43rd at the position. FO had him 24th among 45 qualifiers in rushing DVOA, though at a rate below average-level performance.
At midseason, HC Bruce Arians said that Jones had earned the right to start by being the team’s most explosive back. Jones did fare solidly in that area. PFF credited him with generating 31.5% of his rushing yardage on gains of 15+. That ranked 18th among 59 RBs with 60+ carries for the season.
Interestingly, though, Jones didn’t gain any rushing work after that declaration. He averaged just 10 carries per game over the final 8 and accounted for 40.4% of Tampa’s rushes. Jones averaged 11.5 carries over the 1st 8 games, garnering 43.6% of the ground work.
He did grow his receiving presence. Jones totaled only 11 targets over the 1st half, 3.6% of Tampa’s total pass attempts. Over the final 8 games: 29 targets, 9.0%.
For the season, Jones led the team by 18 carries and beat Peyton Barber in targets, 40-24. He trailed Dare Ogunbowale’s 46 targets for the season but did beat Ogunbowale over the 2nd half (29-21).
Fantasy wise, Jones ranked 25th in PPR for the season; 35th in points per game. He checked in 27th in non-PPR; 40th in points per game.
Fantasy Football 24/7 also credited Jones with another 230 rushing yards lost to Bucs penalties.
Tom Brady’s arrival should be good news for RB targets in Tampa Bay. Jameis Winston has finished each of his 5 seasons among the league’s top 5 in average depth of target, according to Pro Football Focus. In PFF’s 10 years of ADOT, Brady has never ranked higher than 12th. He finished 8 of those seasons outside the top 20.
Less hunting downfield, more outlet and dump-off passes.
And Brady’s more likely to seek those RB outlets than scramble, which Winston liked to do. Over his 5 Bucs seasons, Winston collected 157 scrambles (among 248 total rushing attempts). Over the same span, Brady scrambled only 39 times (136 total attempts).
The addition of Ke’Shawn Vaughn figures to impact Jones more, though.
Here’s what GM Jason Licht said after drafting Vaughn in Round 3: "I think [Vaughn] is capable of playing on all three downs, so you can't have too many good backs. We'll see how it goes. We have to get him here, and we'll get him in the mix, and we'll see how it all shakes out."
This figures to be 1 of the most-watched backfield battles this summer for fantasy purposes. Vaughn beats Ronald Jones on Speed Score and arrives with more college receiving production behind him than Jones had. Vaughn caught 28 balls for 270 yards (9.6 per catch) in his final season at Vanderbilt. Jones totaled 32 catches across 3 USC seasons, with no more than 14 in any year. Neither wins as a pass blocker.
Reason for Hope
It sounds like the Bucs expect Jones to lead the 2020 backfield. GM Jason Light said this offseason that the 3rd-year back “hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be.”
"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."
Licht said that in April, before drafting Vaughn. It surprised no one that the Bucs drafted a RB. Tampa saw Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D’Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor leave the board before their Round 2 turn, but Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins remained available at 45. The team passed on both in favor of S Antoine Winfield.
Jones has reportedly worked “diligently” on his receiving this offseason -- and bulked up to 225 pounds. That’s after entering the league at 205 and being listed at 208 by the team last season. If he can maintain his speed, that would push Jones well past Vaughn in speed score. Though we have seen some RBs in the past lose some burst by adding bulk.
Jones already proved a tough guy to bring down in 2019, breaking a tackle every 7.5 attempts, according to Pro Football Reference. That ranked 4th among 47 qualifying runners.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
We’ll all be watching the Tampa Bay backfield throughout this summer. The biggest unanswered question at the moment is whether the Bucs will add a veteran. They’ve had talks with Devonta Freeman already, and HC Bruce Arians has seemed to indicate interest if the veteran will drop his price.
At the moment, though, Jones looks like at least the clear leader of a committee. Rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn will factor in, and Dare Ogunbowale figures to maintain a receiving role. But Jones passed him in that area in 2019 and looks like a higher-upside runner than Vaughn. Jones easily carries upside beyond his RB37 ADP in current BestBall10s drafting.