Welcome to Bucs Report’s “Make-Or-Break” series!
We are going to highlight the players heading into their final contract year and discuss what they need to do on the field in 2021 in order to obtain another contract with the Bucs. One prerequisite that must be checked off in order to qualify: The profiled player(s) have to be in the final year of a multi-year deal. Players who signed one-year deals in 2021 will not be considered.
Be sure to check back in each day for a new profile!
Ronald Jones II and the Buccaneers so far…
The Buccaneers drafted Jones with the No. 38 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Tampa Bay’s need for a big-play back and Jones’ ability to hit the home run seemed like a perfect fit.
That perception changed a bit during Jones’ rookie year. A rookie is never guaranteed to make an immediate impact, however, Jones barely saw the field in 2018. He finished the year with less than 100 yards from scrimmage as a result.
Questions surrounded Jones as he entered Year Two, but those questions were answered pretty quickly. The former Trojan showed marked improvement all across the board and finished with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He also averaged over 5.1 yards per touch.
RoJo was easily Tampa Bay’s most productive back. He led the team in both rushing and receiving yards while playing just 36% of offensive snaps. It was a night-and-day comparison to his rookie year.
Bruce Arians saw enough improvement to where he said on numerous occasions that RoJo was “the guy” and he would “carry the load“. Jones’ third year was another jump in terms of progress. He finished with a career-high 978 rushing yards and would’ve had a 1,000-yard season if he didn’t have to miss two games due to a fractured finger and COVID-related issues.
He did take a step back in the passing game, however. Jones finished with 309 receiving yards in 2019, but racked up just 165-yards in 2020. What really stood out was his inability to catch the ball on a consistent basis. 2020 featured several moments where he dropped a wide-open pass or one that should’ve been caught. Per Sports Info Solutions, Jones registered a 14.3% drop rate in 2020. That was the second-highest rate among running backs with at least 36 targets on the season. Only Miles Sanders finished with a worse rate.
PFF also graded RoJo as the league’s third-worst receiving back, as well. The irony here is that he spent a lot of the summer working to improve his receiving skills.
He’s come a long way since 2018, but there is still plenty of road left to cover.
What does he need to do in order to get that second contract?
Jones is not only a threat to take it to the house, but he’s a violent, tough-nosed runner, as well. He has all the tools to be a top back in the NFL. One thing he needs to work on as a runner in 2021 is his vision.
There were a few times in 2020 where it looked like he either missed a seam or chose the wrong one. He can get antsy at the line of scrimmage from time-to-time, but that can be fixed. Things should start to slow down even more in 2021, considering it’s his fourth year in the league and third year in Arians’ system.
But the one thing that he really needs to work on (and this is obvious) is his receiving ability. There is a ton of value in the fourth-year back as a runner, but he needs to step it up in the passing game if he wants to truly last in the NFL.
Dual-threat, three-down backs are a valuable commodity these days. Jones has a great shot at getting another contract if he can make the necessary improvements while taking a step forward in this department.
And that contract is likely to be a big one. Speaking of which…
How are his prospects shaping up for 2022?
This one is tough because of the questions surrounding his hands. There’s no doubt that Jones can make a lot of money if he can turn into a dual-threat. Just look at the top-20 contracts for running backs. Nearly every single one of those players have solid hands and are assets in the passing game. He has to become more consistent if he wants a shot at big money.
Arians has also been on record saying that he doesn’t like to pay running backs, so Jones’ market seems to already have a ceiling in Tampa Bay.
But he should still make decent money if he doesn’t become a better receiver. His hands are decent enough to where the Bucs -or someone- will make him their feature back unless everything just goes to hell in 2021.
This is pure speculation, but anywhere between $5-$6 million per year seems pretty fair. That number can easily increase with another season of marked improvement, however.
Jones is going to work his ass off this offseason. We know this because we’ve seen it over the last two years. The only question is: How much will it translate to the field?
I believe RoJo will in fact get better when it comes to the passing game. But I don’t think it will be enough improvement to a) cause teams to completely buy into the idea of him being a dual-threat, and b) warrant a major contract in 2022.
What Tampa Bay does in the draft is also important and will have an impact. If the Bucs spend a high draft pick on a running back, Jones is going to have to ball out in order to remain the guy in Tampa Bay. There are a lot of big names set to hit free agency in 2022, so he could potentially have to deal with that, too.
His greatest advantage right now actually doesn’t lie with him, though, it lies with the offensive line. If the front five plays in 2021 like it did in 2020, then he shouldn’t have issues increasing his numbers, which will only help him at the end of the day.
This is a tough call and it’s only going to get tougher. Because I do see RoJo improving as both a runner and a receiver in 2021. He’ll be 25-years-old when the 2022 season starts, which means his prime is just around the corner.
It could go either way, but I think there are enough positive trends with RoJo currently to where the Bucs do decide to give him another contract.