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NFL Draft

Who Will Emerge From Buccaneers Camp As RB1?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 5, 2021
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a daunting task ahead of them. Oh, who am I kidding, no they don’t. They’re the reigning Super Bowl champions bringing back almost their entire roster and coaching staff with the greatest quarterback of all time leading them.

It might not be a daunting task for the reigning champs to play well, but winning in the NFL is hard no matter what you did last year. For as talented as the Buccaneers' passing weapons are with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard and Cam Brate (do you get the point yet?), head coach Bruce Arians likes to keep things balanced. The Buccaneers had the fourth-lowest number of rushes as a team last season at just 369. Even with Arians saying he likes to be balanced, he knows that his passing attack is superior, which means it only makes sense to lean on it more often.

However, the Buccaneers will still need a reliable rushing attack, in some way, shape, or form if they plan to make another deep postseason run. That brings us to our latest training camp battle between running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette.

Jones is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie deal. It was a slow burn for the second-round pick from 2017 to really hit his stride, as Jones recorded just 44 yards in his first season—this while operating in one of the weaker running back rooms in the league gave some cause for concern. In his second season, Jones took a leap up to 724 yards, and last season he nearly topped 1,000 yards with 938. Jones didn’t seem to run with much confidence as a rookie, but now those days look to be far behind him. He’s gained weight over the last three seasons and looks both fast and strong. Entering 2021, there is reason to believe he could finally hit that 1,000-yard mark and earn himself a nice second contract.

As for Fournette, well, he’s in Tampa because there was some concern about Ronald Jones being able to do the ancillary responsibilities at the position. With the ball in his hands, Jones would flash as the big-time playmaker we saw at USC, but there were too many compounding concerns with pass blocking, pass-catching, and even ball security that forced the Buccaneers to bring in a veteran presence.

At 25 years old, at the time, 26 now, Fournette wasn’t a 10-year vet or anything, but he had plenty of experience as a lead back both at LSU and with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fournette was able to prove himself in a talented and veteran Buccaneers offense, and in those X-factor areas, Fournette found his way onto the field. Fournette recorded 367 yards in the regular season and gained an additional 300 yards in the four games Tampa played in the playoffs. Fournette had 233 yards in the receiving game in the regular season with 148 yards coming in the playoffs, too.

When it comes to who will be the lead back in this group, Jones likely has the edge. Even with Fournette’s strong showing throughout the playoffs, I believe this team will want Jones to be the early-down back. If the best is yet to come from Jones, the Buccaneers are going to feed him early and often. But it will likely be a committee for the Buccaneers, as they keep both of these players fresh and try to get the most out of their strengths for a long regular season. Plus, this team is hoping they’re still playing football well into January. They’ll want fresh legs for that, and the way to accomplish that is by giving that running back room a healthy rotation throughout the season.

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