The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to take a step forward into what could be a real rushing attack after drafting USC runningback Ronald Jones.
There are a lot of things I miss about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Of course what was possibly the greatest defense in the history of the NFL is certainly a huge part of those great Bucs teams. However, there was another aspect to those teams that I wish these modern-day Bucs had.
That is a consistent running game.
Sure the Bucs have had some flashes since then. Let’s not overlook how good Doug Martin was at times. Before Martin there was of course the potential of what Cadillac Williams could have been. But sadly, the Buccaneers haven’t really had more than a flash in the pan with their running game.
That should change in the near future.
On paper, the Buccaneers have the makings to potentially have their best rushing attack in more than a decade. They have made a significant investment in the offensive line and have now drafted one of the best running backs in this class. On top of that they have a true diamond in the rough who should make an impact in 2018.
For the running game to be a factor it all starts up front. The Bucs made this a priority in the offseason when they signed center Ryan Jensen to a very lucrative contract and spent a third round pick on a high upside rookie in Alex Cappa.
Jensen showed flashes of dominance last year, which was his first full year as a starter. He’s as nasty and as physical as they come. Cappa also shows that meanness on the field and has the physicality to back it up. He comes from a small school, so he may not be ready to start week one, but he looks to be a very good guard in the very near future. Adding them to the young core of Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith, as well as Demar Dotson who is one of the better right tackles in the league, makes this potentially the best Buccaneers offensive line I’ve ever seen.
Coupled with that offensive line, Peyton Barber is entering his third year in the NFL after going undrafted out of Auburn. When he first signed on with the Bucs, I honestly didn’t think much of him. As a rookie he looked like he was running through mud a lot of the time. Frankly, he probably wouldn’t have made most rosters outside of Tampa Bay, who had several injuries at the position that year. However, he took great steps in his second season. He looked noticeably quicker and finished the year very strong, when he got consistent carries.
Now he returns as the scheduled starter in 2018. He’s averaging 4.0 yards per carry for his career and that might improve if he continues to develop like he did last season. He will likely never be a star, but he might be exactly what the Bucs need; consistent. His physical style between the tackles style adds a degree of toughness to the offense and isn’t something defenses will easily take away.
Whatcha Got Rookie?
Additionally, the Bucs drafted running back Ronald Jones in the second round. Jones is a running back that really couldn’t be more different than Barber. Jones is elusive and explosive with the ability to break off a big run at any given time. On multiple occasions he’s has been compared to Jamal Charles and LeSean McCoy. He is the kind of running back who can truly become a star in the NFL.
Last year as a junior, Jones rushes for over 1500 yards and a whopping 19 touchdowns. That’s more rushing touchdowns than the Bucs as a team have scored in the last two years combined. Jones is currently projected as the number two back and a “change of pace” guy. However, I believe he will take that starting job (or at least the majority of touches) before long.
If I were projecting his stats, I would expect Jones to get somewhere in the ballpark of 180 carries. That is around 11 carries per game and would have tied for 22nd in total carries last season. I would also predict 30-35 receptions as a rookie, which would be about two per game.
Despite being the named starter, I expect Barber to get fewer touches. I would project around 110-120 carries. I would also expect him to catch fewer passes; probably around 20 or so.
Overall, this is still going to be a pass first offense. However, a consistent running game with big play potential will add a whole new dimension to an offense that ranked 9th in yards per game last season. The slow and steady approach with Barber and the electrifying playmaking of Jones will make the Bucs team one to be feared by defensive coordinators across the league.
J.T. Olson is a long time Tampa Buccaneers fan and a contributor to Full Press Coverage Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Follow him @IcewaterOlson on Twitter and follow him for more of his work.