Rookie year lost
Maybe it was the fact that Ronald Jones II had trouble adjusting to playing in the NFL. The blocking schemes can be a load to learn when it hasn’t been expected of you in the past. Not all incoming college players learn at the same rate; for some, it takes longer. It seems that the Koetter regime ran out of patience for the young back, leading to Jones basically being red-shirted in his rookie campaign. Regardless of the reasons behind it, I think that many fans in their minds wrote him off; at that point. When that happens, it takes an awful lot of positive things to happen before the fan will come back around to believing in a young player. From the moment I watched Jones college video footage before the 2019 season. I knew he had the skills needed to be successful in the NFL. Then, during camp prior to the 2019 season, reports were flooding in about how well Jones was playing. At that point, I knew Peyton Barber’s days in Tampa were numbered. It took little time for Jones to prove that on the field. Jones was twice as talented of a running back as Barber had ever been. (not a knock on Barber, he did everything to his best ability as a Buccaneer, he gave his heart to the team.) Yet, the picking up blocks part of his game was still at an early stage for a player in their second year. It cost him some game time and a delay in being declared the overall starter.
Tampa’s offensive schemes haven’t been running back-friendly in some time
There is no doubt that the offensive schemes of the last two coaches have put a damper on Jone’s learning and development. You can see it in black and white in the rankings of the team and how much they run the football. The Bucs ranked 23rd in the number of plays devoted to the run for the home team Super Bowl-winning season of 2020. Interesting that the Koetter-led offense of the Falcons is just behind us in the 24th position. There were lots of plays in the 2019 season that showed what Jones was capable of; if you were watching closely. It was of no surprise to me in the least when Jones broke loose on his Franchise Record-setting run against the Panthers this past year. It’s worth noting that according to the stats, Jones is actually tied for second in longest runs in NFL History as well. You don’t just fall into a play like that; if you did, there would be a lot more of it happening. According to the stats in the last twenty years, it averages out to be about one rushing play of 90 or more yards per season. Before Jones ran his 98-yard gallop, only one player had a run that long in the last 18 years (Derrick Henry 2018) Ahman Green did it in 2003. Digging even deeper before Ahman Green did it, it was 1982 since a run of 98 yards or more (Tony Dorsett vs. the Vikings in a game I was watching as a 16-year-old kid, 99 yards). In the last almost 40 years, it’s been done only four times. The point is, as you can see, there aren’t backs ripping off runs of that magnitude very often. They are very rare. So are the backs that achieve it.
Bucs social media ripe with dissent over Jones
Join any Bucs social media group on Facebook, and you will undoubtedly see many posts and comments that disparage the young USC Trojans product. Fans wanting to give the starting job to Leonard Fournette and cut Jones. Fans clamoring about the fact that Jones can’t catch, get rid of him and give those plays to Fournette. Yet both backs had the same amount of drops last season. Draft this player or that player at running back to take Jones’s job. On and on it goes. There is no limit to the reasons many fans seem to want him gone. If you think we cut some players in the past that went on to great things elsewhere. Just cut or trade Jones and see what happens. Derrick Henry was again the League Rushing Leader in 2020 with 2027 yards powered by 24 attempts per game (16 games) on average (5.4 yards a carry). Jones, on the other hand, finished with 978 yards (14 games), at a dismal clip of 14 attempts per game on average (5.1 yards a carry). I have said it before, “if you give Jones the same amount of carries as Henry, they finish the season battling it out for the rushing title.” You can, of course, see it in the numbers (assuming they both play 16 games). They both average fairly close on yards per carry, 5.4 vs. 5.1 for Jones. Many running backs are of the sort that they get stronger as they go. Jones is one of those sorts of backs. In most games, by the time he has run his last carry of the game, he’s just getting warmed up good.
His future here may only include one more season