Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans and fantasy football players take note: Head Coach Bruce Arians made it clear on Wednesday who would be the lead dog in the offensive backfield. Not surprisingly, it's the incumbent: Ronald "RoJo" Jones.
"RoJo is the main guy; he'll carry the load," said Arians without hesitation. "All of those other guys are fighting for roles – [for] who goes in second when he gets tired, maybe who is the third-down guy. But they're all fighting for a role and special teams will have a lot to do with that.
Jones was the main guy for much of 2019, too, taking over the starting job from Peyton Barber around midseason and leading the team with 724 rushing yards and just over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. After a lost rookie season in which he fell out of favor with the previous coaching staff and ended up with just 30 touches and 77 total yards, the former second-round pick out of USC took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign. In addition to his counting numbers, there was a lot to like elsewhere in his stat line, including 4.2 yards per carry, six rushing touchdowns, 10.0 yards per reception, an average of 2.41 rushing yards after contact and a dropped-pass rate of 3.1%.
To add some context to those last two numbers, Jones' had a better after-contact rate than the likes of Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Joe Mixon. He dropped passes less frequently than the likes of McCaffrey, Kamara, Aaron Jones, Matt Breida and Kenyan Drake, to name a few. The Bucs think that Jones, who didn't appear to have natural pass-catching hands as a rookie before improving dramatically last year, can get even better in the passing game.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
"He improved dramatically from last April to December," said Arians. "He has shown that he's the guy. He is a guy with a lot of talent. He is excellent in the screen game. His run-after-catch is good. Just for him – how much can he expand it? But I have all the confidence in the world [in him]. He put a lot of time in working out and catching balls to improve his hands in the offseason and it's showing up already."
Jones appeared to be in line to get a larger share of the backfield touches and targets when Barber departed for Washington via free agency in March. However, the Buccaneers subsequently drafted Vanderbilt's Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the third round in April, adding Louisiana-Lafayette speedster Raymond Calais in Round Seven. And just this Monday the Bucs added a veteran presence to that room, signing LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage from 2009-2019. McCoy won a championship ring with the Kansas City Chiefs last year, and while he was phased out of the offense in the postseason he still averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2019 and caught 28 passes. He's averaged 3.1 catches per game and 7.5 yards per reception.
"LeSean – adding him – he's a great veteran, he's a very bright guy and he's already coaching those guys and helping them out. He'll find his niche easily. … He's a heck of a receiver. That's the one thing that gets me excited having played against him all these years is that he's a hell of a receiver and he's still got a very explosive first step. Yeah, I think that will be a big part of it."
McCoy also spoke with the media on Tuesday and said he did not yet have an idea of what his role would be in the Bucs' Tom Brady-led offense. That will likely depend on just how explosive that first step remains. Arians would like to have a more balanced attack than the one that led the league in passing yards but finished 24th in rushing yards last year, and he has said before that he believes in a backfield by committee. There should be enough work to go around for McCoy, Vaughn and Dare Ogunbowale, if things go well for those players, and perhaps some small role in the offense for Calais. But there apparently is no question as to who will take the lead in that backfield.