Ronald Jones II won’t be the first running back taken in this year’s draft, but could he have the biggest impact?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the running back position. Today, we look at Ronald Jones II from the University of Southern California.
As a true freshman in 2015, Ronald Jones II came into USC and immediately made a significant impact. He finished the season with 987 rushing yards, which was good enough to be named honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. He followed his freshman campaign with back-to-back stellar seasons with over 1100 total yards, which included 1550 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns this past season. All this success led to Jones’ decision to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.
During his years at USC, Jones was one of the most productive running backs in the country. He finished his career with 3619 rushing yards on an impressive 6.1 yards per carry. One of the main reasons Jones was so successful was because of his elusiveness. Play after play, he was able to make defenders miss, often resulting in some of the most exciting highlight reel plays of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, he had a 79.4 elusive rating in 2017, fourth of any back in this class. He broke 50 tackles on 212 carries and had an outstanding 3.5 yards after contact.
Additionally, he was one of least turnover-prone running backs. Over three years, he accumulated over 590 carries, but he only fumbled twice. This is one of his biggest strengths because it will instill confidence into his coaches immediately and show them that he is reliable with the ball in his hands.
Jones played some of his best football against the highest level of competition. In games against Power 5 conferences opponents, he had the fifth most 15+ yard runs in the country with 18, which shows his big play ability that should translate to the NFL right away.
With that said, he didn’t perform as well as he could have in bowl games. In the 2017 Rose Bowl, when he squared off against Saquon Barkley, he finished the game with only 55 rushing yards on 20 carries. Then in the 2017 Cotton Bowl, he finished with only 64 yards on 19 carries.
Jones deserves a pass for the Cotton Bowl because his team was completely overmatched by Ohio State. Teammate Sam Darnold, who may end up being the first overall pick, struggled mightily, which resulted in the offense scoring just seven points all game. The Rose Bowl struggles are a little more jarring considering his team won a 52-49 shoot out. Regardless, Jones’ overall body of work against high-level competition is very impressive.
There are two main concerns that Jones faces from his critiques, the first being about his frame. There are big questions about whether his 5‘11, 205-pound body has what it takes to be an every down back in the NFL, especially when running between the tackles. Although his frame is a concern, most NFL teams today have a running back by committee approach, so it should only knock him a couple of picks, if at all.
The other question Jones will look to answer over the pre-draft process is about his ability as a receiver. He only had 40 targets in his USC career, with only 32 catches. There is a belief among talent evaluators in the league that this was because of lack of opportunity rather than lack of the skill set, but regardless Jones will need to showcase this in the coming weeks. The NFL Combine and USC Pro Day will be huge in determining just how high in the draft Jones will ultimately go.
Jones is arguably the second best running back in this class behind Saquon Barkley. He has the speed, elusiveness, and ball security that is necessary to be a starter in the NFL. If he is able to prove to NFL teams that he is capable of being effective in the passing game, he could end up being the next star rookie running back. The sky’s the limit for Jones.
Jones could go as high as the middle of the first round if he tests well in the pre-draft process. His skill set is good enough to fit in almost every offense. However, the best fit for him would be somewhere where he can get on the field right away. The New York Giants, New York Jets, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would all give him the chance to win the starting job from day one.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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