The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs. This week’s topic: Who Will Emerge As Bucs’ Starting RB?
Scott Reynolds: RoJo Is The Bucs’ Best Pure Runner
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I love what Leonard Fournette did for the Bucs in the postseason. He became Playoff Lenny with a touchdown in each playoff game and then turned into Lombardi Lenny in Super Bowl LV. Fournette scored a TD in Tampa Bay’s 31-9 Super Bowl win over Kansas City, too. The reason why Fournette got so many opportunities last year was two-fold.
First, he emerged as the Bucs’ best third-down back. Tampa Bay had originally signed LeSean McCoy for that role during the summer. But it quickly became clear that the 32-year old McCoy didn’t have much left in the tank. Despite several drops of his own, Fournette edged Ronald Jones II for the role on third down, which meant more carries and catches down the stretch. The other reason was that Jones broke his pinky, was sidelined by COVID-19 and then had a quadriceps injury in the first game of the playoffs.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
But when Jones is healthy, he’s the best running back in Tampa Bay. In the regular season it wasn’t even close. Jones had four 100-yard games to Fournette’s one. He out-rushed him, 978 to 367 yards and scored six rushing touchdowns to Fournette’s three. Jones also led the Bucs in rushing average, averaging a career-high 5.1 yards per carry to Fournette’s 3.8. Jones was also more dynamic with six runs of 20 yards or more, including a Tampa Bay record 98-yard TD at Carolina. Fournette had just three runs of 20 yards or more.
I’m not going to say it’s going to be a runaway for Jones in training camp and the preseason. Fournette might pick up where he left off in the Super Bowl. But with newcomer Giovani Bernard taking over as the third down back, Bruce Arians’ decision on who to start will be less about catching the football and more about running the ball on first and second down. Jones has the upper hand in that area, and he’ll emerge as Tampa Bay’s starting running back in September.
Mark Cook: Leave Me Alone, I’m On Vacation
Jon Ledyard: Let The Best Running Back Start
Only one Bucs starting spot on offense or defense is up-in-the-air heading into the 2021 season, as Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones battle it out for primary reps at running back. Both have shown the ability to be solid starters, but reliability and consistency are major issues. The addition of Giovani Bernard should take some onus off the duo in the passing game, which adds another layer to the feature back competition.
One of the major reasons that Fournette surpassed Jones on the depth chart near the end of the season was his superiority as a receiver. Fournette wasn’t good in the passing game, but he was better and more reliable than Jones, who was dreadful all season long. If Bernard’s presence renders that advantage moot for Fournette, Jones could have a prime opportunity to be the first running back on the field in 2021.
Simply put, Jones is a more talented and more aggressive runner with the ball in his hands. Jones doesn’t slow into contact and he possesses greater burst than Fournette, making him more difficult for defenders to get to the ground. Before injuries forced Jones into the background late last season, he had established himself as the Bucs top back despite his inconsistencies. I think he’ll regain that position and it’ll be Lombardi Lenny who fails to find as big of a role as he had in the playoffs.
Matt Matera: Fournette Is More Versatile Of The Two
Though ultimately, both players will get a fair share of opportunities, if you have to just pick one, Fournette is the guy. At the running back position, Fournette gives you so much more versatility when lined up in the backfield. As a runner, he’ll give you a variety of moves to shake the defender, but also isn’t afraid to bulldoze his way in short yard situation to make sure the team gets the first down and/or touchdown.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As a pass blocker, Fournette isn’t afraid to engage with the defender. He’ll pick up the assignment and do the work that’s needed. Ronald Jones II gives the effort too, but this is an area that he’s also gotten benched for. At the end of the day, the biggest separation comes from the passing game. Jones is a liability out of the backfield that can’t be relied on to make the play.
Meanwhile, Fournette does a much better job in this facet, adding another dimension to the offense. He distributed his versatility down the stretch in the postseason, providing a complete game and dominating for the Bucs in the playoffs. Fournette rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns along with 148 receiving yards and another score. He turned it up when it mattered most, thus earning the well deserved moniker of “Lombardi Lenny.”
The more Fournette got familiar with the playbook and comfortable with the team, the better he was. Not to mention that he scored a touchdown in every single playoff game. You can make the case that Jones has more breakaway speed than Fournette does, due to his 98-yard touchdown run at Carolina, but Fournette had an emphatic 20-yard touchdown run in the NFC Championship game where he broke multiple tackles, highlighted by a spin move. He also got away from the defense on a thrilling 27-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl LV to get the game out of reach. There’s more that Fournette brings to the Bucs, which is why he should be starting.