Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said publicly that he views Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette as No. 1 running backs. This is not the news fantasy managers want to hear, especially with how Fournette played in the postseason. Jones finished as an RB2+ in 53% of his 13 active games in 2020. Can Jones meet or exceed that fantasy football finish in 2021 — what does his outlook and ADP suggest?
Ronald Jones’ fantasy outlook for 2021
Jones stockpiled a team-high 192 carries in 2020, with 978 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. Jones averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and had 8 rushing attempts of 15+ yards. He only caught 28 out of 42 targets for 165 receiving yards with 5 drops. Jones also struggled as a blocker.
Changing of the guard
During the latter part of the season, Jones dealt with injuries and a COVID diagnosis. This allowed Fournette, who joined Tampa Bay prior to Week 1, to lead the team’s backfield. Previously, Jones had operated as the clear-cut top back for most of the season.
Fournette averaged 18.6 PPR fantasy points per game in Weeks 15 and 16. His exploits in the Buccaneers’ run to Super Bowl LV were legendary. Fournette’s crescendo began in a Wild Card round win against the Washington Football Team, accounting for 132 total yards. Fournette averaged 21.7 fantasy points and a 73% snap share during the 2020 postseason.
Jones, on the other hand, only amassed 139 rushing yards on 35 attempts in three playoff games. He hit rock bottom in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers — garnering only 16 rushing yards on 10 attempts. He became an afterthought due to Fournette’s performance. Could that dynamic change in 2021?
The Buccaneers’ running back by committee
The issue with the Buccaneers is that running back is one of the deepest positions on the team. You can make an argument that three out of the four could be starters for other teams.
We’ve already discussed Jones’ statistical body of work, but let’s dive deeper into Fournette’s. He had success with the Jaguars from 2017 to 2019. Fournette averaged 23.3 opportunities, 101 total yards, and 17 PPR fantasy points per game during that time frame. The genie is out of the bottle.
The Buccaneers also have second-year RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn on the roster. He was only active in seven games last year and averaged 14 snaps per game. As a reminder, Vaughn spent two seasons at the University of Illinois before deciding to transfer to Vanderbilt University. After sitting out the 2017 season, he again picked up his college career against SEC competition.
Vaughn’s nine career 100-yard performances rank fourth all-time in Vanderbilt history. Additionally, his 21 career rushing touchdowns rank third in school history. Vaughn is only the third RB in Commodore history to post multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians mentioned earlier this offseason that he expects a breakout season from Vaughn in 2021.
Giovani Bernard is more valuable than you think
Last but not least, I must discuss the Buccaneers’ acquisition of former Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard has played in 115 games for his career, rushing for 3,697 yards and 22 touchdowns on 921 attempts. Additionally, Bernard has heavily contributed as a receiver out of the backfield with 342 career receptions. That is not only the most by a Bengals RB but the second-most in franchise history. His presence is a serious threat to Jones and Fournette.
Jones was not dependable on third down, and Fournette was only slightly better. Overall, neither back pass protected well, and they weren’t effective as receivers out of the backfield. For Buccaneers’ starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, that’s non-negotiable. Given the success that Brady and running back James White had during their time together in New England, this could have been the reason Bernard was brought into the fold.
Buccaneers’ passing attack
The Buccaneers’ running game last season was not significant. They ranked 27th in rushing attempts per game (24.5) but seventh in pass attempts (37.2). Additionally, Tampa Bay ranked 25th with an average of 100.5 rushing yards per game.
Brady did target his running backs 7.4 times per game out of the backfield, and the Buccaneers are likely to continue to lean more on its passing game. When you have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown on the roster, that is rational coaching. In fantasy football, pass-catching backs are top assets on your team.
It will be fascinating to see how Arians and running backs coach Todd McNair diversify the touches in the backfield with so many mouths to feed. Jones and Fournette will compete for the title of starter, but from a fantasy lens, they’ll hurt each other’s value. Neither back is likely to see many targets. I believe those will be provided to Bernard and Vaughn this season.
In 2021, Jones projects for around 10 opportunities per game. Yet, this would increase substantially if Fournette were to miss time. Jones can be viewed as more of a low-end RB3. A reasonable projection for him is around 170 opportunities, 900 total yards, and 5 touchdowns.
Ronald Jones’ ADP in fantasy drafts
Jones has an ADP (72.5) which means he is likely to be available late in the sixth round in leagues on Fleaflicker. He has an ADP of 97.01 in pay-to-play fantasy formats such as the National Fantasy Championship. His ADP is similar to that of Fleaflicker in half PPR formats on Sleeper (74.8).
Should you draft Jones at this ADP in 2021?
I’m not going out of my way in a fantasy draft to select Jones at his ADP. The Buccaneers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but the backfield will embody the word committee.