The history of former University of Southern California ball carriers is a laundry list of talents stretching back nearly 70 years to the New York Giants’ selection of former Trojan standout Frank Gifford in 1952. The names and faces of Marcus Allen, Ricky Bell, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White remain in the memories of football fanatics everywhere, but it’s the program’s more recently drafted backfield alum in Ronald Jones who deserves more run.
A second-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018, Jones’ career began unfavorably following a collegiate tenure in which Jones totaled more than 3,600 yards on the ground and 42 total touchdowns in three seasons at USC. Appearing in just nine games in his first year and accruing just 44 yards on 1.9 a pop, questions arose on his potential longevity as an undersized back against bigger, stronger NFL bodies.
Much to the contrary. Now on track to earn a bulk of the carries within Tampa’s backfield, Jones and Leonard Fournette present a dynamic combo of power and speed to support the Buccaneers’ high-flying passing game.
Approaching his fourth season as a pro, 2020 offered a small glimpse into the impact Jones provides when granted the opportunity to showcase his skill set. A 13-game starter last fall, Jones became an integral cog of the Tom Brady-led offense, accumulating career-highs in rushing yards (978), touchdowns (8), total touches (220), and a Buccaneers franchise record for the longest touchdown run (98 yards) against Carolina in Week 10.
And although his frame of 5-foot-11 and a tick over 205 pounds won’t earn him a spot on the highlight film for running over opposing defenders, his 802 yards after contact last fall finished fourth-best in the NFL behind only Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Nick Chubb, all of whom are known for their ability to run through wimpy tacklers.
Moving forward into 2021, and a contract year for Jones, his projection as one of football’s most electric ball carriers could take a hit with Giovani Bernard now in town. The former Cincinnati Bengal is projected to work rotationally on passing downs, comparatively to Jones, a threat of his own in the backfield with 66 career receptions to his name. If head coach Bruce Arians is wise, Bernard’s workload should be one of emergency capacity, instead of designated touches.
An overshadowed positional group due to the elite, consistent production of Brady and his arsenal of pass-catchers, Jones and Fournette’s burden of consistency isn’t an overbearing narrative when No. 12 is under center. Fournette, a cast-off of the Jacksonville Jaguars before the start of last year’s campaign, was a model of inconsistency throughout last year, as Arians attempted to find his formula as the adjacent presence to Brady. While his playoff performance garnered him much praise, the former No. 4 overall selection’s postseason production looked eerily similar to a career littered with flashes in the pan of what could have been instead of what is and what has been during his four-year NFL tenure. That leads me back to Jones.
A return of select starters is one thing, but the return of every starter is another. As Tampa Bay attempts to repeat as champions for the first time in the NFL since Brady did so with New England back in 2003-2004, Jones’ role could have major implications if Brady were to show slight regression. A multi-faceted talent with the ability to take it the distance on a carry or a designated route concept, Jones deserves the work and deserves more touches.
2020 provided a glimpse into the potential of the former Trojan. This fall, however, Arians has no reason but to swing open the gates and let Jones become the next puissant weapon within Tampa’s high-octane attack.