Ronald Jones was nothing but electric in his time at USC. He did all the right things a running back could do — run hard, break tackles (Jones is deceptively strong), and possess elite speed to win footraces. Because of this, the running back-needy Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Jones early in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, which had a stacked running-back class, including the likes of Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and LSU’s Derrius Guice.
Expectations are high for Jones in Tampa, Florida because of how much he contributed to the Trojans. However, Jones, who has had an up-and-down training camp so far, has not yet lived up to those expectations.
Jones started off training camp on a sour note, struggling in pass protection and dropping catchable balls in practice. Because of this, Peyton Barber got the starting nod in the Buccaneers’ first preseason game.
Jones entered the game late in the first quarter with the rest of the starters and immediately dropped a ball as he heard footsteps behind him, reinforcing the negative reports about his hands at training camp. However, he bounced back strong in the second quarter as he took his first carry for six yards, displaying great vision and effort to get the first down for Tampa Bay.
Two carries later, Jones ran for a touchdown from two yards out, first scanning for a hole and making a nice cut before rushing into the hole and into the endzone to hit paydirt. This run was reminiscent of his playstyle as a Trojan, consistently utilizing his superb vision to create chunk yardage gains for the offense. Jones’ vision is a big part of why he is such an explosive back.
The rest of the ex-Trojan’s carries are clearly not indicative of Jones’ talent, as the Buccaneers’ offensive line struggled immensely, giving him no room to run, with the rookie running back constantly having to break tackles in the backfield just to get back to the line of scrimmage.
Overall, Jones had a sloppy first play, but really shone in his limited action in his NFL debut. After the game, Buccaneers’ head coach Dirk Koetter thought that “Ronald was pretty average” but praised his pass blocking, which speaks volumes on how much Jones has improved on that critical trait for every running back to have, especially in a pass-heavy offense like the Buccaneers have.
Currently, Jones will still have to battle to beat out Peyton Barber for the starting job, but if he keeps on improving throughout the preseason like he has over the past week, Rojo should be crowned the starter by the start of the NFL regular season.