View pictures of the Buccaneers' second-round pick, USC RB Ronald Jones II. Photos by AP Images.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began Day Two of the 2018 NFL Draft with three picks to spend among the first 24 selections. The first order of business: Find help for the running game.
The Buccaneers accomplished that at pick number 38, selecting USC's Ronald Jones, one of the nation's most productive running backs with a penchant for big plays. In three seasons with the Trojans, Jones rushed for 3,619 yards and 39 touchdowns, averaging a robust 6.1 yards per tote. He also caught 32 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns and is considered a natural pass-catcher who can contribute more in that regard in the NFL.
Jones (5-11, 205) also briefly ran for the USC track team during his sophomore year. He competed in one meet, helping the 400-meter relay team win in the UCLA Dual.
A productive rushing attack is exactly what the Buccaneers need to take their offense to another level and Jones significantly enhances the possibility of that developing as he joins Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims. With a 24-year-old Jameis Winston at the helm, the Buccaneers had the league's fourth-ranked passing attack in 2017 but the team finished just ninth in total offense and 18th in scoring. That disparity was caused in part by a running game that produced just 90.6 yards per game and 3.73 yards per carry, both ranked 27th in the NFL.
Not only does the addition of Jones help with that issue directly, it will also make it more difficult for opposing defenses to key on wide receivers Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin and tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Jones could also transform Tampa Bay's attack if he can unlock that big-play potential; last year, Tampa Bay ranked second-to-last in rushes of 10 or more yards (30) and tied for 30th in rushes of 20 or more yards (five).
Jones was a reserve as a freshman in 2015 but was used frequently, logging 987 yards and eight touchdowns on 153 carries and adding seven catches for 39 yards and another score. That was enough to earn him all-conference honorable mention accolades. He moved into a starting role midway through his sophomore season and ended up with 1,158 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns, thereby advancing to second-team conference honors.
Jones then put it all together last fall to earn the first-team All-Pac-12 nod, as well as third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. That was the result of his busiest and most productive season yet, as he was given 275 touches, including 261 carries for 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also set a career high with 14 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown; his 13.4 yards per catch is outstanding for a running back and another indication of his big-play talents.
Jones was the fifth running back selected in the draft. The run on the position began early when the New York Giants used the second overall pick on Penn State's Saquon Barkley, but there was then a lull until San Diego State's Rashaad Penny went 27th to Seattle and Georgia's Sony Michele went 31st to New England. The second round began on Friday night with the Browns taking Georgia's Nick Chubb at the 35th pick.
The Buccaneers have a fairly rich history of selecting running backs early in the second round, often with very good results. James Wilder, the sixth pick in the second round in 1981, is the franchise's all-time leading rusher. Reggie Cobb (1990) and Errict Rhett (1994) both came off the board with the fifth pick of the second round in their respective years, and both peaked with 1,000-yard seasons and are among the team's top 10 all-time rushers. And, of course, Mike Alstott – the fifth pick of the second round in 1996 – is in the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor, is a six-time Pro Bowler and is the club's all-time leader in touchdowns.
Tampa Bay has also dipped into the USC running back well before, most notably when they used the first-overall pick in 1977, just the franchise's second season, on Trojan star Ricky Bell. The Buccaneers' head coach at the time was John McKay, who had previously guided USC to four national titles. Later, the Buccaneers drafted USC running back Mazio Royster in the 11th round in 1992 and another Trojan runner, Allen Bradford, in the sixth round in 2011.
Tampa Bay's other two second-round picks, numbers 53 and 56, are the result of a trade with Buffalo on Thursday night in which the Buccaneers moved down five spots in the first round, from seventh to 12th. Barring a trade, the Buccaneers will make three second-round selections in one draft for the first time since 1987, and just the second time ever. They could use those picks to hit additional needs, such as cornerback, safety or the offensive line. However, the first priority on Day Two, based on the talent that was still available early in the second round, was to add talent to the backfield. Mission accomplished.