Before the season started, I pondered if an increase in playing time would result in a top-10 season from Bucs running back Ronald Jones II.
As it turns out, that’s been the case thus far in 2020. Through five games, Jones has played 54% of offensive snaps, which would easily crush his career-high of 36% in 2019 if he continues this pace. But the best part about his increase in playing time is easily the increase in production.
Jones has produced like a top-10 back so far this year in both raw and advanced metrics/stats. For starters, he leads the league with 217 rushing yards over the last two weeks. Through five weeks, he has the 10th-most carries (74), eighth-most rushing yards (359), and the seventh-best yards per carry mark (4.85) among backs with at least 50+ carries. He’s ninth in total first downs (18), 10th in total touches (89) and ninth in total scrimmage yards (435). The one area Jones has struggled in has been with his production in the passing game. Outside of his 23 targets, which are the eighth-most among running backs, Jones falls outside of the top-15 in every major category.
The raw stats are impressive, but Jones’ 2020 season gets better when you look at the advanced stats.
RoJo leads all running backs in yards after contact (221) and is sixth in the NFL with 3.0 yards after contact per attempt. Per Football Outsiders, he is second in DYAR —which is a metric that separates starters from replacement-level players— and is third in overall DVOA, which measures a player’s overall value on a per-play basis. He’s fourth in effective yards, which means he’s played better than his stats indicate and is also sixth in success rate, which measures overall consistency. A player like Jones; who has both a high overall DVOA and high success rate, is a major sign of strong, consistent play.
The wildest part about all of this is the fact that RoJo has been able to do this while facing the ninth-most eight-man boxes and being held to the league’s 11th-lowest yards before contact per attempt mark (1.9) among running backs with 50+ carries. That means RoJo is getting hit on a consistent basis of within two yards of touching the ball. The Bucs’ offensive line is also just 18th in stuff rank, meaning they are below-average when it comes to making sure the running backs don’t get hit at or behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s clear that Jones is making plays out of the backfield and these last two weeks have really demonstrated that. Bruce Arians recently spoke about how he thinks that Jones can handle an even bigger workload.
Based off what we’ve seen so far this year, I’d say that’s hard to argue against. It’s been a long time since Tampa Bay has had a true threat out of the backfield, but it looks like the Bucs may finally have one in Jones.