The Buccaneers continue to have a subpar running game, ranking near the bottom of the NFL. A lot of that has to do with Ronald Jones.
Jones was the second-round pick of the Buccaneers in the 2018 draft. Jones, highly touted at USC, ran for 6.1 yards per carry his freshman season and ran for over 1,000 yards. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry his sophomore season, just missing out on 1,000 yards.
Jones also ran for 1,550 yards in his junior year with 19 touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also caught 14 passes for 187 yards.
So where has Ronald Jones been since landing on the Bucs roster?
In college, however, you are not required to do a lot at your position like in the NFL. At USC, Jones was a north-south runner, that’s it. He didn’t need to catch the ball out of the backfield; moreover, he wasn’t required to do a lot of blocking or pick-up blitzes.
Jones struggled his first year with the Bucs picking up those details of the NFL game. Those details require the backs to stay in at times and pick up a blitz. Or catch a critical third-down down pass out of the backfield.
Jones rushed for 44 yards in his rookie season of 2018 with one touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 33 yards—a far cry from his numbers at USC.
Jones figured it out in 2019, running for 724 yards and six touchdowns. Then in 2020, Jones just missed 1,000 yards rushing as he finished with 978 yards and seven touchdowns.
No one has ever questioned Jones’s ability as a north-south runner. He runs hard and can make defenders miss in the open field.
So far in 2020, Jones has made a critical error in each of the first games two games that have cost his team.
In the season opener against the Cowboys, Jones fumbled, giving the ball to Dallas deep in Buccaneers territory. Dallas would score a touchdown to cut the Bucs lead to one on the next offensive play. Jones spent the rest of the game on the bench.
In week two against Atlanta, Jones missed a blitz pickup and nearly got Tom Brady decapitated. Jones also caught a screen pass and ran out of bounds one yard shy of the first down marker instead of trying to get to the chains for a Bucs first down.
These are just mental errors that can’t happen if you want to earn a lot of playing time and have a long NFL career.
You could sense coach Bruce Arian’s frustration in his Monday press conference talking about these mental errors. “This is his third year, man. It shouldn’t be a problem, and at times it is.”
Arians also talked about the blitz pickup that was missed by Jones, causing Brady to get sacked for a seven-yard loss. “Yeah, it speaks for itself. Ro, that’s his guy. He’s got to get out of those types of situations. I thought he ran hard and protected the ball, but again, you can’t have those mental errors. It’s just attention to detail, like missing that blitz. It’s just his play isn’t as good as it should be.
Leonard Fournette continues to get almost double the number of touches that Ronald Jones gets. But Arians said this week that his main concern is yards per carry, not the number of carries.
When asked if Giovanni Bernard could see more playing time due to Jones’s mental errors, Arians quickly shut that down. “Gio is our third-down back and our two-minute back, so if we’re in those situations, he’s playing. The other two guys are going to take most of the carries most of the other time. I think RoJo has just got to do his job.”
Ronald Jones has 15 games left to cut out the mental mistakes and show that he is worthy of keeping on the roster.
If Jones cannot cut out the mental errors, he could well be running his way out of Tampa.