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The Most Underrated Running back in 2020?

Ronald Jones II was a highly touted running back prospect going into the 2018 NFL draft. He’s not going to blow you away with game breaking speed but he makes your eyes pop with his explosiveness. Jones had an incredible senior year at USC accruing 1550 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. He was simply amazing. Some scouts thought he was the best running back in the class. If you don’t recall, the 2018 draft class included names such as Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Bleacher Report loved him going into the draft giving him a pro comparison to Chief great Jamaal Charles. When the Bucs drafted him in 2018, they thought they were drafting their franchise running back after years without one. They took him in the second round with a lot of optimism for his future.

In his rookie season, Jones struggled mightily with a hamstring injury and only had 23 rush attempts for 44 (!) yards. He was bad. His offensive line did not help at all as he averaged just 0.7 yards before contact per attempt which is just horrible. For perspective, that would have been worse than all 50 qualifying running backs by 0.3 yards. Perhaps he was a bit unlucky too as his teammate, Peyton Barber averaged 1.8 yards before contact per attempt. Either way, after year one Jones looked like a bust. There was not a whole lot of hope in the fantasy world for a recovery in the 2019 season. Fortunately, Jones was able to work on his vision and health issues to put up a very solid and respectable stat line of 700 rushing yards on 4.2 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns. Not to mention his 31 receptions for 309 yards. Jones’ signature jump cuts worked wonders and was a major factor in how he was 11th in the entire league in broken tackles at 23 and was 17th in the league in yards after contact. Yet again, the Bucs’ offensive line struggled as Jones was just 36th in yards before contact per attempt at 1.8. His teammate Peyton Barber was even worse at just 1.3 yards before contact per attempt.

Wirfs was a great value pick for the Bucs as he is regarded as a very high quality tackle prospect and should make an immediate impact for them in 2020. He was not supposed to fall to them at 12 and so fantasy wise you should be very happy that he did. The draft wasn’t completely amazing for the Bucs though in terms of fantasy. They drafted another running back in the third round - Ke’Shawn Vaughn. As soon as fantasy players heard the pick, Ronald Jones became an afterthought. Why would the Bucs, who are trying to contend, draft at a position of strength? Do they not believe in Jones’ pass catching which improved a ton in 2019? Do they think Vaughn is the starter?

After watching some of Vaughn’s tape and reading scouting reports, I’m not so sure I see a workhorse back in Vaughn. He’s a very skinny, upright runner who reminds me a bit of Sony Michel. He didn’t catch a ton of balls in college but scouts acknowledge the fact that he has good hands and can be a solid checkdown option. Vaughn is not a very elusive back at all and is more of a one cut speed runner despite not having a ton of speed. Interestingly, Player Profiler has a pro comparison of Dalvin Cook based on his physical attributes. Bleacher Report compared him to Devin Singletary and James White while the Draft Network thinks he is nothing but a low ceiling depth player who should have been picked on Day 3.

If he is James White as Bleacher Report seems to think, then Jones could be in trouble. We all know Brady loves to throw to his running backs and whoever can secure that role is going to be the most fantasy relevant. However, the biggest struggle that Vaughn could have initially is his pass protection which was not very good in college due to his lack of size. Even though he is known as a good pass catcher, if he can’t pick up blitzes he will not be playing on third downs at first. Jones is a solid pass catcher himself but is not nearly on the level of a James White. Did Brady influence the third round pick and ask the Bucs to try and draft a good pass catcher for him? It is interesting for sure and I think that Jones has the potential to be a three down back in the NFL. If he continues to develop as he has been, his role should be secure for now. Without an offseason program, Jones will begin the season with a huge head start.

Let’s not forget that Jones finished as the RB25 in PPR scoring in 2019. He is a high ceiling, lowish floor guy who can be a top 20+ back if given the opportunity in 2020. His ADP as the RB35 is amazing and I am drafting him at that spot every single time. For me, it is a risk I am willing to take and I think that Jones has the explosiveness to prove me right.



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