What can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expect from Ronald Jones II this season?
Even with the suspension of quarterback Jameis Winston, there is plenty of reason for optimism surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this upcoming season. One of the biggest reasons is the emergence of the running game with Ronald Jones II.
Over the past two seasons, the Buccaneers running game has been non-existent. In 2016, the team averaged 101 yards per game which ranked 25th in the NFL. The following season was even worse, with an average of 90.5 yards per game which was tied for 27th in the NFL. In fact, the leading Tampa Bay rusher from 2016, Jaquizz Rodgers (560 yards), and 2017, Peyton Barber (423 yards), do not even have 1,000 yards combined. Without a competent attack on the ground, there is much more pressure on Jameis Winston to carry the offense.
Out with the Old, in with the New
This season, however, could be a different story. The team released former pro-bowl running back Doug Martin in February after another injury filled season. As a replacement, the team drafted Ronald Jones II with the 38th selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Jones is a dependable ball carrier (only 2 fumbles in 591 carries) with elite acceleration and a capable receiver out of the backfield, who is also willing to protect against a blitz. The reports from rookie mini-camp were positive surrounding Jones and the team is expecting a solid season from him.
Offensive Line Play
The Tampa Bay offensive line ranked 17th last season, according to Pro Football Focus. However, the team has made a few changes that should help this unit jump into the top-15 and possibly, the top-10. The biggest change was the addition of Ryan Jensen at center.
Jensen is a top-10 center who is only 27 years old and should continue to get better as he is entering the prime of his career. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been searching for a younger center that could grow with Jameis Winston ever since drafting him with the first pick of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This also allows Ali Marpet to move back to his original position at guard, which could solidify the interior part of the offensive line. The other change along the offensive line was the release of J.R. Sweezy. Sweezy was projected by many to be the starting guard opposite of Marpet this upcoming season, if he was healthy. Now the hole could potentially be filled by rookie Alex Cappa, veteran Evan Smith or third year man Caleb Benenoch.
The official team depth chart will not be announced until the season begins, but Ronald Jones II is by far the most talented running back on the Tampa Bay roster. Even though Peyton Barber showed flashes last season, the team showed he was not the future of the running back position in Tampa by selecting Jones with their second pick in the draft.
The team has also given Charles Sims several opportunities during his tenure with the team, but injuries have limited Sims’ production. Jones has the upper hand in the running back battle heading into the season and if he continues where he left off during rookie mini-camp, he should be in line for plenty of carries this season.
NFL Success as a Rookie
Over the course of last season, plenty of rookie running backs made an instant impact on their new teams. Last year, Kareem Hunt finished the season with 1,327 yards rushing on the year. Fellow rookie Leonard Fournette also broke the 1,000-yard mark with 1,040 yards. Alvin Kamara totaled 1,554 yards, and Christian McCaffrey reached 1,086 when combining rushing and receiving yards.
In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott exploded for 1,631 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. Jordan Howard also made a name for himself during his rookie season in 2016, totaling 1,313 rushing yards. Needless to say, rookie running backs have proven over the past two seasons that they can have an instant impact on the game.
There is no reason to assume that this season should be any different due to the strong rookie running back class, which bodes well for Ronald Jones II and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What to Expect
With the combination of an improved offensive line, immediate playing time, and the success that previous rookie running backs have shown, it is within reason to think that Ronald Jones II could change the Tampa Bay Buccaneer offense significantly.
Expect Tampa Bay to try to establish the run early and often this season. This will open up play action passes for Dirk Koetter and take pressure off of Jameis Winston (or Ryan Fitzpatrick) to make plays. Running the ball more effectively will also allow the defense to stay on the sideline longer, which is something many Buccaneer fans would like to see after last season!
Ronald Jones II Stat Projection: 916 rushing yards/ 213 rushing attempts/ 313 receiving yards/ 30 receptions.