Something I harp on a lot when looking at draft prospects is the importance of the big play. Players who sack the quarterback consistently, can create turnovers on defense or score a touchdown at any moment on offense are players you prioritize in accruing prospects to build a team. While it is not the only thing, the threat of a big play on either side of the ball can change the dynamic of how a unit operates and how the other team reacts to them. Even this year with the Eagles, the presence of Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffrey have made defenses less aggressive at compressing the field in fear of losing over the top and has opened the offense up for Zach Ertz et al.
So, with the big play threats at receiver, wouldn’t it be nice to have a running back who does this?
Ronald Jones has been one of the more explosive players since his freshman year at USC in 2015. Jones rushed for at least 980 yards in each of his first two seasons, totaling 20 touchdowns on the ground in that time. This season, with 450 yards through week five and six rushing touchdowns, Jones is in for his best season yet.
Standing at 6’0” and 200 pounds; Jones has a tall, lanky and unorthodox build for a running back. His type of build is certainly going to raise some questions heading into the draft season, especially about his ability to take hits and break tackles. Naturally, our brains think of players in the framing of an archetype. For Jones, being a lightweight and speed oriented player, it might be easy to immediately think he isn’t physical and that he is finesse player.
One of my favorite things about Jones is just how physical he is for any sized running back, not just one his size. Sure, the nature of physics means he can only be so strong at his size, but it does not stop his sheer will when he has the ball in his hands.
When people talk about Jones, it is obvious that they will lead with how fast he is, but look how he just shrugs off arm tackles at the line of scrimmage and bounces through contact at the end of the run. This whole run is impressive considering it starts with a cut to the hole behind the line of scrimmage where he breaks an arm tackle and speeds through to break a few more tackles before the run ends. As a runner, Jones is a compete package of speed, agility and physicality as a runner.
It is pretty insane how quickly Jones can change direction and accelerate through his cuts. His make-you-miss moves are deadly enough but the fact that he seemingly gets faster with every cut is deadly.
Once again, his speed can outrun most angles by defenders but he can also shrug off high tackle attempts at speed. He is a yards after contact master/
This is probably one of my favorite runs by Jones, against Stanford of all defenses. Making that defensive lineman miss behind the line of scrimmage, only to accelerate to the end zone is just an unfathomable feat of his athleticism. Truly special movement ability.
A back with Jones’ speed would be an asset to most teams in the passing game, yet USC has features him very lightly as a receiver. With only 21 career catches, it is hard to say either way if Jones is a good receiving threat out of the backfield. However, every seven of his catches have gone for touchdowns and he certainly has the yards after catch ability to make him a dynamic outlet for an NFL passing game.
So it is to be seen if Jones gets more targets this season but considering what he can do as a receiver, it would be smart for USC to get him more involved there.
NFL Comparison: Ronald Jones’ skillset and running style is vividly reminiscent of Dalvin Cook coming out of Florida State. Cook, of course, fell to the second round but was having a very impressive rookie year this year before injuring his knee. Jones has a similar game that’s predicated on game changing speed and toughness.
Jones will need to overcome questions about his size heading into the NFL, but it is hard to find much fault with him on tape. He is a complete runner who shows promise catching the football. In what looks to be a loaded running back class, Jones might get overlooked on draft day, but his talent is borderline first round worthy. I am sure he is going to open a lot of eyes at the NFL combine.
For the Eagles, Jones’ skill-set would give them something they do not have on the roster right now and considering Doug Pederson’s success with Jamal Charles in the past, I bet he would be chomping at the bit for a running back with Jones’ speed. While I don’t think he will be a first round target, he is the type of player you sprint to the podium for in the second round and don’t look back.