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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

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

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

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.

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fredster
3 months ago

Both are good backs to me doesn’t matter who starts etc both will get plenty touches I’m sure. It’s shame Jones can’t pass protect or catch better. Would think if he worked on it hard he could it’s not rocket science. Bernard is going to be deadly in passing game too.

Last edited 3 months ago by fredster
toofamiliar17
Reply to  fredster
3 months ago

He worked on it a ton last offseason, which is a bit discouraging considering the thoroughly middling or poor results of that effort. I’m still crossing my fingers that he can make a leap in that area of the game (as many RBs do as they age into the game), and I think he will at some point due to the consistent time he invests in that area of his game, but it feels unlikely that he makes that leap while still under contract here.

Last edited 3 months ago by toofamiliar17
TBChucky
3 months ago

Should be a good competition. I heard that Rojo looked better in the passing game at minicamp than he did last season. If he elevates that area of his game the competition will basically be over.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  TBChucky
3 months ago

That’s welcome news if true! We can only hope and, frankly, doubt for now. One thing that was so frustrating about his 2020 was that he was highly productive as a receiver in 2019. He was third in the league in yards per reception and 23rd in catch percentage among RBs that year, albeit at a slightly lower volume than a true three-down back. He was also a pretty solid pass blocker that year, with far fewer lapses than he put on tape last year. So he’s shown the ability to be good there but regressed significantly last season, which… Read more »

Runole
3 months ago

I believe all 4 rbs will be used this season. The starter will be based on the play calls and health but not so much on necessarily down and distance. RB by committee.
I expect both Vaughn and Bernard will get far more usage this season.

Naplesfan
Reply to  Runole
3 months ago

Running back by committee is what you do when you don’t have quality running backs. We do. All running backs require lots of touches to get into their game. 15-20 touches is the sweet spot, fewer than that you aren’t getting max performance out of your lead back, and if you start hitting 25 or more carries a game and you’re skating on thin ice, with respect to injury and simply wearing him out. Putting someone on the field who is perceived as just a third down back only telegraphs that you’re waiting til third down to pass. Putting a… Read more »

bucballer
3 months ago

I think they all have a little different skill sets. RoJo is clearly the better pure runner. But, Fournette is a vet who brings experience and may be just a little bit better all around back. Gio is the third down specialist with the best hands and can still run the ball a bit. Vaughn is the unknown. He must put it all together this year because if he doesn’t he may not see a lot of playing time.

Naplesfan
Reply to  bucballer
3 months ago

Fournette is the better “pure runner” than RoJo, having proved it over years in the league. His slow start last season was purely a function of him not even joining the team until Week 1, with Arians annointing RoJo as the first and second down back, such that Lenny was not aware of what his role should be, since from the beginning of his college career and throughout his time at JAX he as always a three down lead back. Fournette came into his own the last month of the regular season and the playoffs because Arians finally gave him… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Just my opinion, but I think Jones is better as a runner, and it’s not that close. Fournette was highly productive in the playoffs and made some excellent plays. But those plays he made a few times don’t show up on his tape regularly. For 2020 as a whole, Ronald Jones led the ENTIRE league in yards after contact per carry. That was more than Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones – every RB in the league, no exceptions. Fournette finished 54th in the league, behind EVERY RB in the game who led his team in carries and plenty of… Read more »

Dave
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Jones is the better pure runner. And it’s not even really that close lol. Take any metric you want. YPC. Short yardage. Goal line. YAC. Broken tackles. You name it, and Jones has been significantly better at it, for his career. In what way, shape, or form, is Fournette a better pure runner than Jones?

Last edited 3 months ago by Dave
Alldaway 2.0
3 months ago

Fournette should be the RB1a because the Bucs will want to pass out of first downs more often to keep defenses honest.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Alldaway 2.0
3 months ago

This is the only decent argument for Fournette out-snapping Jones. Not saying I agree with it, but it’s at least a logically defensible take.

Naplesfan
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

No way you’re dead wrong. Fournette is the better all around three down back than RoJo, and it ain’t close at all.

bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

by what metric? Jones had 967 yards. Fournette had 360. It’s hard to tell someone ur “dead wrong” when the numbers clearly disprove ur comment. Now, if ur saying u like Fournette better… well that’s ok. It’s ur opinion. But to tell someone that they r “dead wrong” and then say “it ain’t even close” when the facts r what they r… well reading is fundamental. I, personally, like all of our RBs and I believe we have the best stable of RBs in the NFL!

toofamiliar17
Reply to  bucballer
3 months ago

Over the last two seasons combined, RoJo has carried the ball 364 times compared to Fournette’s 362. Over those two seasons, Jones has accumulated more total broken tackles at a lower carries per broken tackle rate, more yards after contact per carry and total yards after contact, more rushing yards per carry and total rushing yards, more yards before contact (helloooooooo terrible Fournette vision), more rushing first downs, and scored more TDs. There is, from a rushing standpoint, literally a SINGLE statistical measure that might indicate that Fournette is better as a runner than Jones is – Fournette has fumbled… Read more »

Jay
Jay
3 months ago

Only Matt mentioned that Fournette had to learn a new playbook. Fournette came in med season and did his best to learn the playbook on get to know the front line. Brady even said that it took him a long time to learn the playbook. Jones on the other hand has been playing for the Bucs for years he knows the plays inside and out and has chemistry with the front line. I believe that Fournette did a fantastic job. He got it down just in time to make a playoff run and he was great. I am looking forward… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  Jay
3 months ago

Agree with all Jay! I like this stable of RBs that the Bucs have accumulated. It may be the best they’ve ever assembled. I guess we could say that about a couple of grouping of players on this team. I mean, we r the defending SuperBowl Champs! Not only is the Brady effect real, but winning does seem to cure what ales ya. Well that…and an off season where u upgrade the talent on ur team. Even if it’s for depth. This stable of RBs can really have a special season in terms of ground game. Injuries r the only… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  Jay
3 months ago

Yup – my points exactly too.
Nobody walks onto a brand new team, brand new playbook, brand new coaches, with another player already installed as leader in the position room, and instantly plays at the top of his game. Nobody Not even the GOAT could do that.

bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Brady did just that???

DT25
Reply to  Jay
3 months ago

I get your point but saying his poor play was entirely playbook related is a reach. He’s a running back, he’s likely had 90% of the running assignments in that playbook in every single playbook he’s had throughout his career. To me it was clear that Lenny’s issues were much more vision and confidence related. And vision isn’t something that’s easily fixed. He far too often either missed wide open holes or tried to make guys miss and bounce outside, something that rarely worked for him at his size and speed. The playoffs showed a more decisive runner with some… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  DT25
3 months ago

Preach. Well said. The playbook was the issues? For a RB? lol come on. Fournette’s knowledge as a runner needed to consist of power left, inside zone right, off tackle right, dive left. We’re not talking about a WR in Bruce’s offense who’s having to run complex option in a varried route tree routes every snap. Speaking of which – the routes asked of our RBs are simple and limited, too, so even that is not asking much for a guy to learn. This is a lame excuse for his poor play. Speaking of which, his only notably good game… Read more »

DT25
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

Sorry toof somehow missed this earlier. Here’s a link for it: https://discord.gg/qSwEXyvy. Definitely a completely different place compared to the last time you were there. Lot more organization now lol.

Naplesfan
Reply to  DT25
3 months ago

It was NOT just “not knowing the playbook”, which if course is a humongous factor for any offensive player. It was ALSO not knowing his teammates. It was ALSO not knowing his coaches. And it was NOT knowing his role on the team, since his first day on the job he and the world were told in no uncertain terms by Arians that RoJo was the starter. Combine all that together and only an idiot would be surprised that it took him about 3/4 of a season to prove that he was the best back on the team, and indeed… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

It was also learning to be a Pro! Up to coming here, Fournette was THE man. He had to learn that playing his role and allowing other talent around him to use their talents where, ultimately, in his best interest. It won him a SuperBowl. He learned what his role on this team was and he is a better RB for having done so. That is why he resigned. He knows when he’s a part of something special and bigger than himself. He’s matured as a person and as a player. I think he would admit as much and he… Read more »

seat26
3 months ago

I think Jones plays the most. He has earned it. Fournette will get a lot of touches. He’s earned it too.

Captain Sly
3 months ago

I feel like we have answered this question already. RoJo was the lead back all the way up until injury sidelined him. Fournette was good in the playoffs but so was everyone else on the team. Nothing has changed except the new season so here’s the depth chart: Ronald Jones RB1 – Leonard Fournette RB2 – Giovanni Bernard RB3

Captain Sly
Reply to  Captain Sly
3 months ago

Edit to my comment above: Leonard Fournette did change his jersey to #7 Cheers!

Naplesfan
Reply to  Captain Sly
3 months ago

Fournette way outplayed RoJo from December through February. It was not even close.

DT25
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

He also was very bad September through December. Also wasn’t even close. And this isn’t just a playbook thing. He’s a RB and looked like he was running in mud. There are literally multiple clips of him missing wide open holes to run into the asses of the OL. Meanwhile RoJo was averaging nearly 5 YPC during this same period of time. I think you’ve made it clear you prefer Fournette but if he doesn’t play like he did during the playoffs, he shouldn’t be on the field over a far superior runner in Ronald Jones.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  DT25
3 months ago

Also, it’s questionable to what extent exactly Fournette outplayed Jones as a runner. Jones put up 13 carries for 62 yards (4.8 YPC) against NO and 12 carries for 61 yards (5.1 YPC) against KC. I agree that Fournette was better in the playoffs, but I think HOW MUCH better he was strictly as a runner is being significantly overstated here. He definitely stepped up as a receiver from a volume standpoint, although even then, he dropped 3 passes on 21 targets (two against GB and one against NO) which, as is par for course for Fournette, is a terrible… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

No questions at all. Lenny clearly outperformed RoJo in every way after he finally caught up in familiarity with the offense, his fellow players, and his coaches, and had a heart to heart talk with Arians.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

k

Naplesfan
Reply to  DT25
3 months ago

Tom Brady was bad (relatively speaking, compared to prior year performances) in the early going too. And Tom Brady have many more advantages coming onto the Bucs roster than did Fournette. It got so bad that Arians was calling out TB-12 publicly, as so many seem to have forgotten. Tom Brady was put on the roster way back in March, not in September as was Fournette. TB-12 had far more time to get to know the playbook, his coaches, and his teammates. Fournette had none of that at all. Zip, nada, nothing. Tom Brady had zero questions as to his… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Naplesfan
bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

“That Fournette managed to catch up to Brady?” What r u even talking about? Fournette’s issue was between his ears. Once he learned his role on the team he performed admirably. Fournette is a pro. Now that he is aware of his role, I believe he will be even better this year and he will run with it. No pun intended.

DT25
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

The QB learning a playbook, with all the routes and timing with receivers it requires to master it, is in no way equal to a RB learning a new playbook. Running plays are nowhere near as variable as passing plays, with far fewer responsibilities for the RB to learn compared to the QB. You’re just looking for ways to convince yourself you’re right but the proof is all over Lenny’s tape last season. He just wasn’t a good RB until he was gifted another opportunity when RoJo got hurt. And that’s OK…I’m sure he’d even admit he wasn’t very good…he… Read more »

Dave
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

No no no he wasn’t. Brady was a top 3 QB every single step of the way, outside of that rough 3 out of 4 game stretch HALFWAY through the season(NO, KC, LAR). Take away those 3 games, and Brady is the MVP(11-2 with 38 TD’s vs 6 TO’s in the other 13 games). To say Brady struggled early is so laughably inaccurate it’s not even funny. Don’t make up crap, just to support your horrible “Fournette just needed time to learn the playbook” bs. Never in my life heard of a RB needing to learn the playbook, as an… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Dave
bucballer
Reply to  DT25
3 months ago

RoJo has the ability to break off the big run on any giving play and run away from the defenders. This is not Fournette’s game. RoJo is the better pure runner.

bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Unfortunately that not how it works. We don’t pick and choose a certain point within a season. We measure success by taking the season in it’s entirety. If we do that, then the numbers bear out who is the overall best RB. Again, I’m glad we resigned Fournette. We need him. He is an important part of this running game. He did come up big in the playoffs. It was much needed and fun to watch.

scubog
3 months ago

Isn’t it refreshing when we’re not having to choose the lesser of two evils and actually having a group more than capable of contributing? B.A. doesn’t get enough credit for so wisely seeing that RoJo’s issue was a loss of confidence and Fournette’s was perhaps a perceived loss of respect. Great coaching! Like everyone else, I’ve enjoyed watching the replays of this past season. I especially like watching the games I saw live, but without the “emotional roller coaster”. I think it’s somewhat unfair to judge Fournette too harshly since his head was probably spinning during the regular season. I… Read more »

surferdudes
Reply to  scubog
3 months ago

Not just Rojo, and Lenny. I expect Vaughn to take the next step like Rojo did moving forward. Rewatched the Charger game the other day. Vaughn did some good things in that game. Add in Gio, we could have a four headed monster.

Naplesfan
3 months ago

Scott makes the common error of comparing season long stats from last year between the two backs. That’s ridiculous. Fournette did not even become a member of the Bucs until Week 1 of the season. He therefore knew nothing at all of the playbook at the start of the season, knew none of the other players on the team at the start of the season, and frankly he had no idea what his role would be, because coming from JAX he was essentially the only running back who got any carries. Whereas RoJo had a full season under his belt… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

I love how you just omit that RoJo was running on one good leg, had a broken finger, and had just dealt with having Covid. You never cease to amuse me, Naples. Keep being you! Quick question regarding your first thought here – if those were all the problems holding Fournette back, then why was his best game of the season in week 2, when he put up 103 yards, scored 2 TDs, and caught 4 of 5 targets against Carolina? Did he somehow learn the playbook and get comfortable JUST for that game, then forget it all again and… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

I hate how you comment period.

bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

I can see that. The truth is an inconvenience sometimes.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

I would too if I was you.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Also, brilliant job completely dodging my genuine question to you. I get why you did, since acknowledging the reality of it pretty well proves your position to be as thoughtless and foolish as everyone else here already knows it is.

DT25
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

yeah the playbook thing is a cop-out, imo. You pretty much just ended that argument right here. Lenny’s issues were all over his tape all season long and they weren’t due to lack of familiarity. They were physical in nature. He was missing holes consistently, dropping passes at a similar rate as Jones and he was straight up benched heading into the bye week because of a mixture of poor results and poor attitude. The only way to defend him at this point is to hope his playoff performance is more indicative of the guy we’ll get going forward, and… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Fournette was released from his previous team where he was the workhorse and essentially the entire offense. When Bucs picked him up, it wasn’t only the playbook that held him back a bit. He had to learn to just play his part on the offense where he was just a part of the whole instead of the entire offense. Once he adjusted to this new reality, I think he became a better player and a better teammate. His head wasn’t right. There is a reason he resigned with the Bucs. He’s part of an explosive offense, one in which he… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  bucballer
3 months ago

Exactly, my points exactly. He was added to the roster quite literally as an afterthought, and told that he didn’t really have any role on the team at all, he was effectively on “prove it” probation, with RoJo the designated starter, and Arians made no bones about it. That was a total slap in the face to Fournette. He didn’t react well, and few players would in that situation. Most of the time when a proven veteran is brought onto a new team, the coaches tell him, and the world, that he has a shot and there will be competition… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

But he wasn’t necessarily the best RB on the team. He was the next man up and performed admirably. We were lucky to have him.

Dave
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

He is clearly NOT the more talented back, and NEVER has been. Especially as a runner. If you want to say that as a pass catcher, both him and Rojo are below average, but LF is the better of the 2 evils…..sure. Totally agree. But that’s as far as I’ll go. See the difference between your ridiculous claim and my comment, is that mine is backed up by every single stat or metric humanly possible, that’s used to evaluate RB’s. 90% of them, which significantly favor Rojo

Last edited 3 months ago by Dave
DT25
3 months ago

In the end, this question doesn’t really matter. Bruce has said both will play and he considers both starters, so both will play and most likely, both will see the field “first” at some point this season. What is clear is this: Jones is the better runner by far at this point in their careers (it’s really impossible to make a good faith argument against this without doing some mind bending mental gymnastics) and was graded as the better pass protector of the two (even though neither is necessarily “good”). Fournette was a mediocre receiver all season long but really… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by DT25
Darktanian
3 months ago

I agree with Mark Cook’s assessment of the situation.

…And does it really matter which RB wins the starting role? Both Rojo and Fournette are beasts.

Last edited 3 months ago by Darktanian
Naplesfan
Reply to  Darktanian
3 months ago

It matters in the sense that all great running backs can’t be used spottily. You have to run them at least 15-20 snaps a game or they never get into their groove or their rhythm. A few snaps then come off the field, that’s a recipe for poor running production.

Dave
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Interesting. Seeing as Fournette had at least 14 touches in 34 of his 36 career games as a Jaguar, and was still an efficiency dumpster fire. How come the “getting into rhythm” theory didn’t work on him? Lol

Last edited 3 months ago by Dave
Horse
3 months ago

My spin is ground pounders might be more of the norm because all teams now how we play. Lenny will be the man. I do hope Jones has added a few more pounds and become another few more pounds.

Horse
Reply to  Horse
3 months ago

oops; sorry about the repeat of the last six words. I keep forgetting to check what I have said on voice talking.

scubog
Reply to  Horse
3 months ago

For someone who remembers the days when our phone number was only four numbers and you actually spoke to an operator to make the connection, you do pretty well with modern technology. LOL!

lambeau
3 months ago

Lenny’s vision before the playoffs was poor–couldn’t see the hole–and he went down too easily. Suddenly in the playoffs he’s finding holes, spinning, and bulling over guys–what changed? We’ll see. But the standard in the league has shifted toward two backs, maybe with a third for pass-catching–nothing wrong with a three-back system. The Patriots, for example, use Damien Harris, James White, and Sony Michel.

MCBRICKEL
3 months ago

They should all get better, let the competition begin.

arizonajoe
3 months ago

Having multiple running backs that can carry the load is important to a repeat. I like the ability to mix it up. Ronald Jones is the best back though.

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