The Buccaneers released their initial depth chart on Wednesday ahead of their first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals this coming Saturday. On the depth chart, Ronald Jones is listed as the top running back, which should come as no surprise. Jones finished the 2020 campaign with 978 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while playing only fourteen games. It’s easy to say that had RoJo not missed those two games, he would have exceeded 1,000 yards with ease.
It was in the postseason that Leonard Fournette - or “Playoff Lenny” - took his game to the next level. However, looking back, many forget the forgettable regular season Fournette had because of his outstanding postseason play.
There should have been no question about the pecking order of running backs for this team, but like all things this is subject to change.
With the addition of pass-catching back Giovani Bernard, Fournette and RoJo are already battling for playing time. The “hot hand” approach is likely going to be implemented for the Bucs’ offense and whichever back emerges as the superior pass catching option will likely get the nod early and often.
There’s been a lot of focus during training camp on the running backs catching passes - a glaring weakness in the Bucs’ offense last season - and both Jones and Fournette appear to be focused on improving that part of their game. Jones has nowhere to go but up, having been rated the worst pass catching back in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
When speaking with the media Wednesday, Fournette said that now he has the playbook down, he’s focusing on improving his communication with the receivers and quarterbacks. That experience and being able to react rather than having to think too often could cause “Playoff Lenny” to show up far more often in the regular season, pushing RoJo to improve his own game in order to stay on the field.
No matter how you slice it the running back competition is a good problem to have as both backs have shown their ability to shoulder the load for this offense. Competition breeds excellence and right now Ronald Jones has a one step lead over Lenny.