2018 Rookie Class: An Early Look at Ronald Jones II

Noah Ballweg

On Friday night all eyes will be tuned into what will be one of the most memorable Cotton Bowl games played in the last decade.

While the attention will be on projected first round pick Sam Darnold and his matchup against fellow first rounder Denzel Ward (Ohio State cornerback), what I will be looking forward to is the battle in the trenches – the stiff run defense of Ohio State (108 rushing YPG) against Ronald Jones II.

Darnold has overshadowed the underrated back all season long, but it’s been Jones’ breakout season which has lead the Pac-12 Champs all season long, thrusting them into the national spotlight with a chance for a statement victory over the Buckeyes.

College Production

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

Jones arrived at the University of Southern California with an asterisk of hype next to his name. After tearing up the talented high schools fields in North Texas where he rushed for over 4,400 yards and 62 touchdowns, Jones committed to USC as a top five-ranked running back in the nation.

With the excitement of landing the biggest named running back since Reggie Bush, there also came the doubts of whether the speedster would fit into the depth at USC or whether his size would prohibit him from being a feature back at the college and professional level. He answered all of those questions in 2015.

As a 6’0, 185-pound freshman, Jones split carries with fellow running back, Justin Davis, but the writing was on the wall for Jones to take over a significant role moving forward. Despite being a freshman, he was out-touched by only 17 snaps rushing for 987 yards (6.5 YPC) and eight touchdowns.

Now a junior and the bell-cow tailback for the Trojans, Jones has dazzled the past two seasons, rushing for more than 1500 yards (6.1 YPC) in addition to 30 touchdowns. He is the secret to success at USC, as the run game has opened up lanes for their offense all season long. Jones is ready for the jump to the next level and will excel in the process.

What Scouts Will Be Looking For

Ranked as the fourth eligible running back in DLF’s Devy Rankings, scouts have been thoroughly impressed with the offseason work Jones put in prior to the 2017 college football season. He put on about five-to-ten pounds over the summer, maintaining his speed while becoming more durable as a bruising runner between the tackles.

NFL Scouts will still deem Jones an “undersized” back, as he weighs in at just 200 pounds, and will likely encourage him to continue the weight gain if he has hopes of being a feature back at the professional level. Scouts will want to see his ability to break tackles and gain yards after contact, something that Jones has slightly struggled with at USC, most likely due to his lack of size.

From a raw speed perspective, scouts and the television audience will be wowed at Jones’ capabilities when given open space. As a 17 year-old he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, impressing dozens of college programs, and has continued to be a hot commodity for NFL scouts as his speed has only increased at the collegiate level. He truly does compare to the likes of Bush, though at the professional level the league he will be able to implement his intangibles much more effectively.

Draft Projection

I have been high on Jones all season long. I’m thoroughly impressed with how he has developed his craft and excited to see what he produces on Friday against Ohio State. The nation will get to see one of the most explosive running backs on full display. His speed, explosiveness and vision are certainly readily available, but the downside of size and ultimately longevity in the league will weigh greater when teams make a decision to draft Jones.

Just around ten years ago, we saw a similar player get drafted with the number two pick overall in the 2006 draft. Reggie Bush, who housed many of the same explosive, game-changing skill sets, was drafted into the NFL but maybe a decade too early. Bush did not fit the system of offense that teams were running in the early 2000’s and his coach’s inability to treat him as a secret weapon, rather than a battering ram ultimately led to his demise.

In the 2018 draft, Jones will have the opportunity to be grafted into a league that is fully prepared to utilize his talents as a rusher and pass catcher, by most likely pairing him with another every down back to offset his size differential.

I think a great comparison to Jones’ skill set right now is Devonta Freeman. While Freeman was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, the demand has grown much higher for speedier players who can shift the outcome of a game with just a single play. I project that the size of Jones hampers his draft stock minimally, to the effect that owners begin to target him early in the third round. All this obviously hangs in the air with his combine numbers, but I believe that will help Jones more than it could hurt his stock.

Final Thoughts

An elite talent at the collegiate level, Ronald Jones II is ready to make the jump to the next level. We will keep an eye on his weight at the combine as scouts will want to see him bulking up and adding more muscle, but the speed and athleticism is without question. Jones is a game changer at best; given the opportunity he will simply make big plays which is the desire of NFL owners around the league right now.

While I wouldn’t spend any first round dynasty picks to jump on his bandwagon, Jones will certainly be worth a shot late in your rookie drafts in 2018. Tune into the Cotton Bowl on Friday night and watch one of the best-slated games of the College Football season.