This is the first in my series taking a deeper dive into the fantasy ramifications of some of the top positional battles in the NFL. This week, we are looking at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fantasy running back battle between rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn and incumbent Ronald Jones. Two will enter, but only one will leave victorious! FIGHT!
Buccaneers Fantasy Running Back Battle: Ke’Shawn Vaughn vs. Ronald Jones
2019 Recap: Ronald Jones falters
Everyone in dynasty hyped up Ronald Jones II entering the 2019 season as a potential RB2, but that bandwagon looks pretty sparse now that the season has ended. Jones finished the season with only 724 yards on 172 carries and 6 touchdowns. Not exactly numbers you want as your RB2 for your fantasy team, let alone for your starting running back on a real NFL team.
Jones’ poor production does not rest on his shoulders alone. That offense was wildly dynamic, sometimes to a fault, and Jones’ low fantasy output is definitely tied to his low volume as a whole. His year-end OSM of 17.62 puts him at RB10 in the NFL, meaning he did a lot with what little he was given to work with. This is definitely something you love to see in your running back in terms of dynasty production as well.
So what happened? Well, Bruce Arians happened. Oh, and Jameis Winston throwing 626 times (30 of which to the opposing team) happened. Everyone loves to look down on Jones as the reason for their failure as a team, but if anything, he was a bright spot that just so happened to be largely ignored in the gameplan.
While that all may sound positive, in terms of fantasy, none of that matters. Stats alone matter. That is why Andy Gallagher listed the Buccaneers as one of the top landing spots for rookie running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft. The team decided to make a big change this offseason and sign free agent Tom Brady, someone who likes to run his own offense on the field, thus putting Jones’ future value even further into question. Then came the NFL draft.
A new challenger has entered the arena: Ke’Shawn Vaughn
In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn with their third draft pick, 76th overall. PFN’s own staff was mixed on the pick, with draft analysts Tony Pauline and Anthony DiCecco both seeing Vaughn as an immediate upgrade at the position on draft night while Brad Kelly called the pick a reach in his draft grade for the team.
Vaughn comes from a program at Vanderbilt where he was the clear workhorse as a senior, getting 198 carries for 1,028 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground to go with 28 catches for 270 yards and a score. His scouting report said he was an aggressive runner with good speed but had issues getting to the outside. This makes me wonder if he will be able to unseat Jones, who will almost certainly come back to camp with a chip on his shoulder.
It’s clear that the Buccaneers are looking for someone to help improve the offense and felt that Vaughn was worthy of their third pick in the draft. Arians tends to rely on one good running back rather than split carries amongst a group as well. This then begs the question everyone is asking: Can Vaughn beat out Jones for the starting job and be the Buccaneers fantasy running back to own? And if so, how soon?
Vaughn vs. Jones in 2020
When I wrote about the Buccaneers 2020 outlook before the draft, I spoke pretty highly of Jones in general. Sure, the team added Rob Gronkowski to help catch the short ball, but I still think the 22-year-old Jones has plenty of tread on the tires. With the loss of Peyton Barber, this backfield is back to being a two-headed monster, which is definitely better than three in terms of fantasy production.
One quarterback who is very familiar with using multiple running backs is Tom Brady. The New England Patriots used Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and even Brandon Bolden on some downs in 2019. Brady has seen his fair share of middling running back teammates in his day, and as long as they can pick up a blitz, I doubt he really cares all that much whose name is on the back of the jersey on game day.
So which player is the better Buccaneers fantasy running back for dynasty? Only time will tell, but I have my money on the proven talent in Jones over the unknown rookie in Vaughn at the moment. Nothing against Vaughn, but he’ll have a lot to learn as he takes the leap to the NFL game, and doing that without a normal offseason will likely have an effect. In a recent rookie draft, I saw Vaughn go at pick 1.08, which just seems early for a guy with so many question marks.
In my opinion, from a dynasty standpoint, I’d be making offers for Jones, hoping his current owner just wants out of the situation altogether. If I can get Vaughn in the second round or later of rookie drafts then I understand taking the leap, but given the way their values are going, Jones is a buy for me, and Vaughn is either a sell or a hold depending on the price you can get for him.
Winner: Ronald Jones in a split decision
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.