Rather than focusing on where a running back is ranked in any given rookie class, it’s important to determine the quality of the class in relation to the current level of talent in the NFL. This time three years ago, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were entering a pool of dynasty runners depleted at the top. Only Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Gurley were in the top 24 picks in ADP, while wide receivers dominated. In 2018, after an infusion of great runners, there are now 13 backs in the top 24. We are adding some more great ones.
While there’s been a ton of talk about this year’s running back group – and rightfully so – it’s essential to understand how they fit into the big picture. As well as ranking each player against rookies, consider where each player places in total ADP. How does each tier of rookies compare with veterans currently available?
Today’s subject is USC’s Ronald Jones. He’s the “next Jamaal Charles” (or Melvin Gordon) if you enjoy stylistic comparisons. He’s got speed, explosiveness, and electrifying play-making ability, and he wears the number 25. However, his critics will say he’s too small and can’t catch the football (and that jersey numbers don’t matter).
Who is Ronald Jones, and where does he fit into the dynasty big picture?
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Statistics from sports-reference.com.
As we do with every 2018 Rookie Profile, we’ll begin with college production. Jones’ career as a Trojan was fantastic, and he kicked it off by breaking USC’s freshman rushing yardage record with 987 on 153 attempts. He started both in the second half of 2016, and all of 2017 – and his career culminated in third-team AP All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 selections in his junior year.
What stands out to me is his consistency and improvement from year to year. He earned more touches, put up more yards, and found the end zone more times in each season. His yards per carry average did drop progressively, but that’s simply to be expected when stepping into a starting role and touching the ball more often.
The glaring negative, of course, is the weak receiving stat line. 32 catches in three years aren’t enough to prove he has receiving prowess, but I’m of the belief that shouldn’t rule out his ability either. Just like in the NFL, the scheme will dictate a lot of what a player can and can’t do. We only find out a player’s full capability when their coaches attempt to be creative and find out their good and bad traits. (Unfortunately, as we know, some coaches refuse to utilize their players and instead fit square pegs into round holes. This is out of our control.)
Regardless, I believe Jones can catch. Recent victims of this criticism – Melvin Gordon and Leonard Fournette – have shown you don’t have to be a pass-catch ‘specialist’ in order to succeed at the next level. Gordon caught 22 balls at Wisconsin but has managed a whopping 132 catches in three years as a Charger. Fournette made 41 receptions in three years at LSU but hauled in 43 balls as a rookie in Jacksonville (including the playoffs).
It’s clear to see quite early that Jones isn’t afraid to do the ‘boring’ running and the dirty work. Yes, he’s fast and a bit smaller than the average back, but his philosophy is to run downhill as opposed to immediately looking to bounce to the outside. Yes, it’s going to be harder to move the pile against larger and stronger opponents at the next level, but what are coaches looking for? They want tough inside runners, and Jones can do that.
Similarly, we see him catch a screen pass, follow his blockers, and power his way to a first down. It’s not something he can’t do – he simply wasn’t asked to do it often.
Although Jones dropped nine spots – from 20 to 29 – in Daniel Jeremiah’s latest top 50 prospect rankings, he’s still seen as one of the best players in the draft. Jeremiah calls him “explosive”, “aggressive”, “elusive”, and “a threat to score every time he touches the ball”. I agree.
In recent weeks and months, I’ve been compiling highlight videos of most of the top dynasty prospects in the draft. Ronald Jones’ 20-touchdown 2017 season is by far one of the most exciting to watch.
Every touchdown by Ronald Jones from the 2017 season. pic.twitter.com/D0CXTJGD2m
— James Simpson (@JS_Football) April 1, 2018
How good was that? You can clearly see his ability to reach top speed in an instant. Once he gets going, it’s unlikely he’ll be caught. He’s exactly what we call a ‘home run hitter’.
Let’s dive into Jones’ athleticism (via MockDraftable).
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Jones hurt himself and ran a 24th-percentile 4.65-second 40-yard dash which clearly didn’t do him justice. In just a few days, he dropped from being in contention for the third back taken to a late first-round pick and even worse. However, a 4.48-second forty at his Pro Day was much closer to what we expected.
To me, his ‘tested’ athleticism doesn’t move the needle too much at all. We knew he was fast and athletic but small and light. There are no glaring issues or surprises.
His 13th-percentile hand size may go some way to explaining his lack of involvement in the passing game. While I mentioned Gordon and Fournette’s improvements in that aspect earlier, the Charger actually has huge hands (83rd percentile) and Jacksonville’s offensive centerpiece is right around the middle (48th percentile). This is something to take into account and he’ll have to overcome. Jones has small hands – therefore, small gloves.
From February through till April, Jones dropped one spot each month in our ADP data – and currently sits at seventh. He’s also dropped from an overall ADP of 58.67 in March to 69.17 in April. He seems to be an asset on the decline based on the Combine and questions about his pass-catching ability.
However, he has the potential to fall even further after the NFL draft. DJ Moore, ranked seventh, shooting up draft boards – he’d go ahead of Jones in most drafts now. Similarly, if Calvin Ridley, James Washington or Christian Kirk are selected on day one, they’ll likely move on up. I expect Jones to be a late first round rookie pick.
Where does Ronald Jones fit into the dynasty picture? Currently, he’s right where he belongs. He’s in the 60-75 range in startup ADP and comes in around RB20-30 among running backs (26th in April ADP). Jones is in the range of Tevin Coleman, Carlos Hyde, Jay Ajayi and other players of that ilk – talented backs who simply aren’t high-volume ball-carriers. It’s expected that will be Jones’ role at the next level, so the value seems right.
With that said, if he falls to the end of the first round in rookie drafts or ends up in what is deemed a solid situation but behind a veteran, be sure to snap him up. When talented rookies have veterans in their way – if they are good enough, they’ll see the field sooner rather than later.
Running backs are returning to the forefront of dynasty teams. Jones is another talented one and someone I’ll look to acquire in every league.
As well as editing for DLF, James writes for Sky Sports and can be found on Twitter at @JS_Football