As fantasy football managers continue to prepare for their final drafts before the 2021 NFL season kicks off, one RB duo that seems to generate different responses on who to target is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. On what is expected to be a potent offense, should you target the Buccaneers’ RB duo in 2021? If so, who do you target — Jones or Fournette?
Ronald Jones was a better fantasy RB than Leonard Fournette
For as much as social media loves to rag on Ronald Jones, the guy was pretty darn solid last season. In fact, he set career-highs in rushing totals despite playing with the most talented RB he’s shared a backfield with so far in his career.
The third-year pro rushed for nearly 1,000 yards (978) and 7 touchdowns on 192 carries in 14 games. He also worked out of the backfield as a receiver, catching 28 of 42 targets for 165 yards and a score. Through Week 12 (Buccaneers’ bye week), Jones was the RB10 in fantasy, averaging 13.1 points and 16.2 opportunities per game.
Things changed late in the season
Unfortunately, things went downhill for Jones, leading many to wonder if his starting role is in jeopardy. After returning from the bye week and recording 84 yards and a TD on 20 opportunities, Jones missed the next two weeks after being placed on the reserved/COVID-19 list. From that point on, Fournette stole the show.
In his Week 17 return, Jones saw just 12 opportunities, all rushing attempts. And if you include the playoffs and the Super Bowl, Fournette was the starting RB for the Buccaneers for the final seven games, not Jones.
During the regular season, Jones was by far the more efficient RB, averaging 5.09 yards per carry to Fournette’s 3.78. But in the playoffs, it flipped on its head, with Fournette leading 4.69 to 3.97.
In a “what did you do for me lately?” sport like football and especially fantasy football, did “Super Bowl Lenny” do enough to steal the RB1 role away from Jones?
Fournette made a strong case for the starting role in 2021
Fournette’s career has been a wild ride. As a rookie, he was the RB9. Then, in 2018, he played in eight games as the RB40. In his third year, Fournette was the RB7 (17.3 ppg). Furthermore, he was one of just four RBs in fantasy football to see over 100 targets.
In the offseason, however, this rift the size of the Grand Canyon opens up between him and the Jaguars’ ownership — leading to Fournette’s release later in the summer. The Buccaneers were more than accommodating to quickly scoop him up and add him into the fray with Jones and rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Fournette was the clear RB2 in Tampa, as Jones out-touched him during the regular season by a margin of 220 to 133. But in the 12 games together, Jones out-touched Fournette 130 to 104, just 10.8 to 8.7 on a per-game basis. In total, Fournette carried the ball 97 times for 367 yards with 6 touchdowns. Still, he was the primary receiving back, hauling in 36 of 47 targets for 233 yards.
As I mentioned with Jones, Fournette took over the backfield — especially in the playoffs. While we usually don’t mention these too much in fantasy analysis, I think they are pertinent here for this situation, at least.
“Playoff Lenny” was sensational
In the three playoff games they both played (Jones missed the first game), Fournette saw 59 touches to Jones’s 35, or 19.7 and 11.7 on a per-game basis. Then, in the Super Bowl, Fournette had a team-high 16 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown while adding 46 yards on 4 receptions.
In his four playoff games, Fournette had 448 total yards and 4 touchdowns. He was objectively good, which was a drastic shift from the regular season when you weren’t happy in fantasy unless he scored.
But was this enough to unseat Jones? I’m not so sure. Although Tampa Bay did re-sign Fournette to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million in the offseason, that’s not what anyone would call a significant investment. In fact, he was not the only RB the Buccaneers signed.
Should you target either Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones in fantasy football drafts in 2021?
There is a fairly definitive definition between the RB1 and the RB2 on the depth chart with most backfields. That’s not the case with the Buccaneers. While Jones is currently listed as the RB1 on the unofficial preseason depth chart, he and Fournette are similar in value. If you were to give the edge to one RB, I think it would be Jones.
We have seen the efficiency out of him, and unlike Fournette, Jones’ fantasy value has not been predicated on receiving work that is now likely directed towards Bernard.
Both RBs are going nearly back-to-back in fantasy football drafts. It seems many managers are finding little that separates the two. On Sleeper, Fournette is the RB30 (79.7 ADP) with Jones as the RB31 (85.5 ADP). On FleaFlicker, Jones is the RB30 (79 ADP), and Fournette is RB35 (102 ADP).
If I were to suggest one RB over the other, it would be Jones. I am concerned about Bernard’s passing game involvement hindering Fournette’s production. With that said, should the other end up missing time, both would become mid-tier RB2s.
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