(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
New to QB List, we’ll be taking a look at the profiles of NFL rookies and breaking down their college tape to get a better understanding of their skill set and how it will translate to the NFL and your fantasy teams, both redraft, and dynasty. This will be an ongoing series where I’m hoping to cover all the relevant rookie players, and I encourage you to comment below and let me know which rookie you would like to see profiled next! Let’s get started
Ronald Jones II (RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Jones is listed at 5 foot 11, 205 pounds which is on the slightly smaller side for a workhorse RB, yet it didn’t stop him from dominating the college level at USC where he was one of the most productive RBS in the entire country in 2017. Here are his college stats:
Jones arrived at USC with lofty expectations after being ranked a 4-star recruit by Rivals.com and the 2nd best tailback in the 2015 class. He promptly responded with a terrific campaign in which he became just the 2nd true freshman in USC history alongside LenDale White to lead the team in rushing, and he did so while splitting duties with Junior Justin Davis. 2016 was a similar story with Jones and Davis splitting duties in the backfield, but Jones earned a few more of the touches and came away with his first 1000+ yard rushing season in college. With Justin Davis leaving the backfield in 2017, Jones saw an opportunity to prove he could handle being a workhorse back at USC and added 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason to prepare.
It clearly paid off as Jones ended up rushing for 1,550 yards which ranked 6th in the nation despite Jones missing one game due to an ankle injury. Jones was remarkably consistent throughout the season too with 9 of his 12 games being 100+ yard efforts, with the only struggles coming against Texas (2.6 YPC on 18 attempts) and Notre Dame (2.7 YPC on 12 attempts). Note that Texas ranked 6th best in the nation in YPC allowed, and Notre Dame ranked 43rd, and when you add in the context of a likely injury sustained in the Texas game that caused him to miss the following week plus a patchwork USC offensive line and it’s understandable for a couple lesser games in 2017. Despite the 2 lesser games, Pro Football Focus graded Ronald Jones II as the top-rated rusher in the nation last year with a 93.1 grade.
Let’s take a look at the tape and see why he was so successful in college and how his skills translate to the NFL level:
The first thing that jumps out when you throw on the tape is how fast and explosive that Jones is. Once he saw the hole open up to his left, he embarrassed #33 on the D-Line with a quick cut and exploded through it, blowing past the linebacker with ease in the process for a TD. Watch it from this angle now:
Such a beautiful run! He really is super elusive, and his elite stop and start ability is probably the biggest reason. He is so adept at freezing the linebacker and using his agility and speed to beat them. Here is another example:
Now everything that I’ve shown you so far makes Jones look like a speed/agility rusher, but he’s far more than that!
As you can see, Jones is not a “speed only” player. In fact, two of Jones’ most influential traits within his game are his ability to turn momentum into power and then pairing that with good balance, often fighting for extra yards and never wanting to go down or get off his feet. Per Pro Football Focus, only Nick Chubb and Rashaad Penny forced more missed tackles among draft-eligible RBs last year and neither of them has the sort of take it to the house type of skillset that Jones possesses.
Curiously, the USC offense did not use Jones as a weapon out the backfield much at all. The 56-yard play above actually accounted for roughly 30% of his season receiving yards total. While this play is yet another good example of his breakaway speed, I’m not sure how he will fit in a more traditional 3rd down pass catching back type of situation as USC simply didn’t run many plays that asked the RBs to catch the ball.
He is a willing blocker though which should give him the chance to see a 3-down workload:
When looking at Ronald Jones II’s fantasy outlook, I think his tape and numbers suggest that he should be able to contribute well both in redraft and dynasty leagues alike. Again, he managed 1,737 scrimmage yards and 20 TDs in just 13 games last year, and the tape backs it up as he looks like a tackle-dodging and breaking machine with the speed to hit to the home-run at any time. He also has shown impressive ball security as only LSU’s Darrel Williams and ASU’s Demario Richard posted better career fumble rates from the 2018 draft class which should keep him out of the coach’s doghouse.
Size does seem to be a concern at 5 foot 11 and 205 pounds. Last year, only Bilal Powell reached 175 carries (10.9 per game) among RBs weighing 205 or fewer pounds. Zero RBs fitting that profile reached 175 in 2016 so he would be more of the exception if he were to handle a workhorse role at his current size. Regardless, I think it’s clear that Jones has special athletic traits, and his ability to pick up chunk yards will likely make him a potential high points ceiling player week to week. His ability to thrive in space seems to fit with the Buccaneers offense as Jameis Winston and Mike Evans along with the rest of the skilled pass catchers should open up plenty of space for Jones in the box. He should definitely be a 1st round pick for those in dynasty leagues with a rookie draft, and if he can earn a consistent role over Peyton Barber quickly, he has a chance to be a RB2 for those in a redraft league.