The biggest disappointment as far as the offense was concerned last year, would probably have to be the production of rookie running back Ronald Jones II (RoJo). When Jones was taken with the 38th overall pick, General Manager Jason Licht had to have suspected he was drafting a bonafide stud.
Given RoJo’s production at USC, where he shined in his three years (almost 4,000 total yards, more than 40 touchdowns, a rushing average of more than 6 yards per carry, a receiving average of 9 yards per catch, and rarely missing snaps, Jones seemed to have everything the Buccaneers were looking for when it came to a running back.
The 2018 season would prove that putting Jones in the lineup and expecting him to put up league-leading number simply wasn’t the case. His lack of production was mainly due to some horrific coaching, RoJo would find himself only being handed the ball a total of 23 times all season, but he was able to produce a touchdown on those carries. One wondered if maybe he was struggling to learn the playbook, but the coaches assured everyone that wasn’t the case, as he had learned a majority of the playbook early on, and had no struggles picking it up. Some had wondered if maybe he simply wasn’t capable of making the switch to the NFL, but his multiple first downs and a touchdown on only 23 carries, proved that wasn’t the case. While the offensive line did have issues, creating running holes and protecting Winston, the extremely underwhelming debut season would not wind up leaving Jones much to celebrate.
The NFL Rushing Leader last year, Ezekiel Elliott from the Cowboys ran the ball an incredible 304 times. That is 280 times he was handed the ball more than RoJo was, Zeke had more carries in one game, than Jones had an entire season. Again, this wasn’t because he didn’t understand the system or the playbook, and it wasn’t because he can’t run the ball, it’s simply because the coaching staff was so bad at their job, they couldn’t figure out a way to run the ball, nor could they figure out when to run the ball. We almost never ran the ball inside the 20-yard line, and when our Defense would allow our opponents to get up by 30+ points, it would leave us with no choice but to air it out.
This is one of the many reasons, that the hiring of Bruce Arians was so important to not only the team as a whole, but the entire roster and the fan base as well. Arians took David Johnson, a 3rd round pick, and by the end of his second season, had him rushing for over 1200 yards. This isn’t to say that RoJo is better, worse, or just as good as Johnson, but it does show that Arians knows how to make the necessary adjustments in order to get the most out of his running game.
The fact that Arians has proven he can utilize a running back, is something that will bode well for Jones this upcoming season. You can guarantee that within his first two games, he’ll already be at or surpassing his total carries for all of last season, and he’ll have a coaching staff that is capable of shifting the line and creating holes in which Jones can start to show the same immense talent that he displayed at USC.
Assuming Jones stays behind Barber for the entire season, you can expect to see Jones putting up 700-800 yards, and adding a few more touchdowns to his total. However, if something were to happen to Barber or Arians simply decided to give Jones the starting nod, there is no reason given his pure talent and new coaching staff, combined with his desire to prove he belongs, there’s absolutely no reason he can’t surpass 1,000 yards rushing, which is something the Bucs haven’t been able to do but three times in the last 13 years.
Look for RoJo to not only improve upon his production last year, but also look for him to make a strong case as the Buccaneer’s most improved player. He’s young, he’s talented, he’s hungry, and you can bet he’s glad to have a coach willing to run the ball.