Ronald Jones

NFC South Notes: Saints, Clowney, Bucs

Before Jadeveon Clowney signed with the Titans, the Saints attempted to orchestrate a sign-and-trade in order to land the star edge rusher — but the NFL put the kibosh on such a maneuver, as Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com write. In the proposed scenario, an unidentified team (widely believed to be the Browns) would have signed Clowney to a one-year deal with a $5MM signing bonus and a $10MM base salary.

Clowney then would have been dealt to the Saints in exchange for a second-round pick, per the NFL scribes. The mystery team would have absorbed the $5MM signing bonus on its salary cap, giving the cap-strapped Saints the breathing room they would have needed in order to acquire Clowney. But the league office gave word it wouldn’t approve a deal that amounted to trading cap space.

“We felt like we got close,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com (Twitter link). “We weren’t able to match the money, and that’s one of the challenges every year. Mickey (Loomis) and Khai (Harley) did a great job working with (Clowney’s agent).” The Ravens may have also attempted a sign-and-trade strategy to land Clowney, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk indicates Baltimore tried to arrange a similar strategy involving the Jaguars. Tennessee ultimately landed Clowney on a one-year, $13MM pact that includes $2MM in incentives.

  • Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans is dealing with a hamstring injury and could be a game-time decision for Sunday’s tilt against the Saints, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Evans ended last season on injured reserve with a hamstring issue, but he hadn’t missed any time during camp, so the injury must have flared up recently. If Evans is forced to miss Week 1, Chris Godwin could see even more targets than usual, while Justin Watson and Scotty Miller would likely become more involved in Tampa Bay’s offense.
  • The Buccaneers‘ backfield split became extremely murky following the addition of Leonard Fournette, but head coach Bruce Arians says Ronald Jones is still the club’s starter, per Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. Of course, Arians has been anything but fully truthful when it comes to running back touches over the years, but Jones should at least get the first snap of 2020. Arians said Fournette will have a “situational role” in Week 1 (Twitter link via Pewter Report), while LeSean McCoy should still be a factor on passing downs. Tampa Bay also worked out a number of running backs, including veteran Kenjon Barner, earlier this week, tweets Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com.
  • Saints owner Gayle Benson has thankfully recovered after contracting COVID-19 in August, as Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk writes. The 73-year-old Benson was not forced to spend any time in the hospital while quarantined, and was still able to take part in team business.

Bucs GM On Brady, Gronk, Jones

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht has been heavily criticized over the years, but he managed to come away with the league’s biggest prize this offseason. So, how does it feel to land Tom Brady?

It feels damn good,” Licht said on Thursday (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine).

The GM also recognizes his shortcomings, saying “a lot of [the criticism] was deserved.” The Bucs have gone 34-62 in Licht’s six years at the helm, but that could all be quickly forgotten if Brady is able to lead them to a Super Bowl championship.

Here are some of the highlights from Licht’s virtual chat:

  • Licht expressed confidence in Ronald Jones, signaling that the running back position might not be high on their to-do list. “We do think Ronald hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be,” Licht said (via the team website). “He made a huge jump from year one to year two. He didn’t have to do much to do that because year two wasn’t very good for him. But year two, we felt very good about where he came, and we think he still has a tremendous amount of upside.” Jones, a former second-round pick, had a strong start to the 2019 season as a backup to Peyton Barber. Later, he was bumped up to the starting lineup, but his production took a nosedive. He also missed some key blocks on blitzes, an issue that he’ll have to correct if he wants to be a regular this year.
  • No matter what’s going on in the news cycle, tight end Rob Gronkowski seems to remain front and center. Brady’s arrival in Tampa has fueled speculation that Gronk could attempt a reunion with his longtime pal, but Licht didn’t take the bait. “Well he’s doing a pretty good job in Wrestlemania right now,” Licht said (Twitter link via Laine), referring to Gronk’s recent WWE appearance. “I have no idea if he’d want to play.” It’s worth noting that the Patriots still hold his rights, so a return with the Bucs or any other club would require cooperation from Bill Belichick & Co.
  • Earlier this week, Tom Brady sat down with Howard Stern to discuss his move to Tampa and what led him to leave the Patriots.

Buccaneers Sticking With Ronald Jones II

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians told reporters that running back Ronald Jones II will remain the team’s starter even amidst his struggles, according to Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com. Jones was benched during Week 13 for missing a blitz pickup and was replaced by Peyton Barber.

A second round pick by Tampa Bay in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jones spent all of his rookie season buried on the Bucs depth chart behind Barber-who started all 16 games last season. However, in a more prominent backup role this season, Jones clearly outperformed Barber and has been the team’s starter since Week 9. Jones has yet to translate his early season success, when he averaged 4.24 yards per carry, to the starting lineup, averaging just 3.29 yards per carry since. His struggles in pass protection though, seemed to be the final straw.

Barber and Jones have received a nearly identical number of carries this season (125 for Jones and 122 for Barber), but Tampa has remained committed to playing the hot hand regardless of who was in the team’s starting lineup. Still, at least for now, Jones remains the top running back on the Buccaneers depth chart.

NFC Notes: Gordon, Dak, Falcons, Bucs

There’s natural excitement for Josh Gordon‘s debut with the Seahawks, but Pete Carroll cautioned that the organization isn’t setting any expectations for the talented wideout.

“I’m telling you, I’m just waiting to see him,” Carroll said Monday (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). “I’ve seen him on film. He looks pretty special. He’s got a good history of making plays and all that, but I want to see him when he mixes with our guys and really just take it one step at a time with no expectations of how much he would contribute or play or whatever. I’m just going to see what happens.”

Gordon was sidelined in mid-October by a knee injury, and he was placed on the injured reserve and later cut by the Patriots. Despite the ailment, Carroll said the receiver is ready to go.

“Yeah, he’s been cleared to go,” Carroll said. “He’s ready to go, so Thursday when we get rolling again, he’ll be going. He’s in the building, studying and all that, getting ready. We’ll see how it goes.”

Let’s check out some more notes out of the NFC…

  • During the Cowboys‘ bye week, quarterback Dak Prescott had four wisdom teeth removed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). Through the first half of tonight’s contest against the Giants, Prescott has completed 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 137 yards, one touchdown, and a pick.
  • The Falcons made a number of coaching changes this afternoon, according to Will McFadden of the team’s website. Wide receivers coach Raheem Morris will be the Falcons new secondary coach, while running backs coach Dave Brock will move back to his old position of wide receivers coach. Offensive assistant/assistant special teams coach Bernie Parmalee will become the team’s new running backs coach. We learned this weekend that head coach Dan Quinn would keep his job through the bye week.
  • Ronald Jones has secured the Buccaneers starting running back gig, coach Bruce Arians told ESPN’s Jenna Laine. The former second-rounder started the year in a timeshare with Peyton Barber, and he’s responded by rushing for 381 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. “He’s been consistent (and) he’s been more explosive. It’s not that Peyton did anything wrong,” Arians said. The coach added that T.J. Logan and Dare Ogunbowale will also see reps at running back.

Examining The Buccaneers’ RB Situation

Running back Ronald Jones was a disappointment for the Buccaneers and dynasty fantasy football players alike last year, as the 2018 second-rounder turned in a very quiet rookie campaign. The USC product did not displace Peyton Barber as Tampa Bay’s lead back, as many expected, and in fact played only 90 offensive snaps all season. Meanwhile, Barber started all 16 games and led the club in rushing yards for the second straight year, though he only managed 3.7 yards per carry.

Given that the Bucs did not do much to upgrade their RB room in free agency or the draft this year, Jones has a good opportunity to break out in his second professional season. And, as Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk writes, Jones plans to do just that.

He said, “I just want to lead the team in rushing and be that player who can ignite the offense and things like that, because that’s who I am. I’m a playmaker. I just want that opportunity.”

To that end, Jones says he has put on 13 pounds of muscle. He added, “[l]ast year was a disappointment for me. I’m putting in the work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Unsurprisingly, Greg Auman of The Athletic believes that Jones is a lock to make the club, as there is no way the Bucs will give up on a second-round running back so quickly. However, Auman also notes that Barber has garnered plenty of praise from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff this year, and since Barber is eligible for unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career in 2020, he will be plenty motivated (Twitter link). In fact, Auman believes that Barber will lead the team in rushing for the third consecutive season, though he also notes (via Twitter) that Jones emerging as a solid complementary option would still be a big help to the offense.

Auman believes one of the other available spots on the Bucs’ RB depth chart will be filled by 2019 UDFA Bruce Anderson, who excelled at North Dakota State and who offers solid pass-catching ability, which is not a strong suit of either Barber or Jones. Veteran Andre Ellington — who was out of football in 2018 but who played for new HC Bruce Arians in Arizona — would seem to have a decent chance of making the team, though Tampa Bay could also elect to carry just three RBs (unless a backup like Dare Ogunbowale wins a job as a return specialist).

The club will almost certainly remain on the lookout for veteran depth, and players like Jay Ajayi and old friend Jacquizz Rodgers remain available. An intriguing name or two may also shake loose from another club’s roster as the regular season gets closer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which Rookie RB Will Rush For Most Yards In 2018?

In selecting their third first-round running back of this century, the Giants continued to show how they regard this position despite its marginalization over the past several years. Saquon Barkley is the odds-on favorite to win offensive rookie of the year.

However, the running back position produces annual mid- or late-round surprises — from Devonta Freeman to Jordan Howard to Kareem Hunt — that end up providing immense value to certain teams. The Giants obviously have an incredibly gifted ball-carrier set to take handoffs from Eli Manning, but which of Barkley’s peers is in the best position to challenge him (and the quarterback contingent) for the OROY honor?

The other two first-round RBs look to be less equipped for a strong challenge due to circumstances.

Sony Michel‘s prospects of being an immediate ground producer may have been better on a different team. While the Patriots boast one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, Bill Belichick notoriously finds myriad usages for his backs and involves nearly all of them. Although, Dion Lewis‘ departure after a 180-carry season opens the door for someone to take over as New England’s primary back. And Michel averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 156 totes at Georgia last season. Rashaad Penny looks to be behind Chris Carson to start the season, and the surprise first-rounder may be given time to develop for a Seattle team that’s struggled on the ground for a few years now.

After Round 1, however, it becomes a bit more interesting. The Buccaneers did not possess a formidable depth chart at running back prior to investing their second-round pick in USC’s Ronald Jones. In 2017, Jones rushed for 1,550 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns. He could well be an early-season starter, with the likes of Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber in his path toward a first-string role. Chosen just before Jones, Nick Chubb will have to contend with Carlos Hyde in Cleveland this season for the revamped Browns. Chubb, though, notched three 1,000-yard seasons in the nation’s toughest conference.

Kerryon Johnson looks to be set to start in a committee in Detroit, but the Lions have been desperate for a surefire ground producer for years now. And they view Johnson as a three-down backLeGarrette Blount and Ameer Abdullah reside in the Motor City carries picture, but neither would impede Johnson from a major role if he proves ready from the outset. Derrius Guice could have a quicker path to playing time in Washington. Considered by some the second-best back in this draft, the LSU product fell largely because of character concerns. However, Guice averaged 7.6 yards per carry in 2016 on nearly 200 attempts and is expected to push for the Redskins’ starting job from the start.

Also expected to challenge for an early role: the Broncos’ Royce Freeman. The Oregon-developed talent posted three 1,300-plus-yard seasons with the Ducks, amassing a staggering 947 college carries. With the Broncos having moved on from four-year starter C.J. Anderson, only Devontae Booker (299 rushing yards last season) resides in the third-rounder’s path. Is he a threat to be the 2018 version of Hunt?

As for Barkley, he has the most obvious route to a full-time gig. Despite Jonathan Stewart now being in the Big Apple, the Penn State dynamo will factor in from the start of the Giants’ season. And the three-down back totaled at least 2,300 yards from scrimmage in back-to-back years for the Nittany Lions. The Giants have questions up front, having lost Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, but they added multiple UFAs — spearheaded by Nate Solder — and chose likely Day 1 starter Will Hernandez in Round 2.

So, will Barkley’s situation be too much for the rest of this class to overcome, a la Ezekiel Elliott? Or will one of the later-round picks emerge in Hunt fashion? Is there a Day 3 dark horse in this year’s class in the mold of Freeman or Howard? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Sign Rookie RB Ronald Jones

Ronald Jones is officially under contract with the Buccaneers. On Thursday, the Bucs announced that the second-round pick out of USC has signed his deal. With that, the Bucs have officially locked up their entire draft class. 

Heading into the draft, some believed that Jones would be a first-round selection. However, he did not help his cause with a poor showing at the Trojans’ pro day. The Bucs, meanwhile, believe that they have a sleeper on their hands after grabbing Jones with the No. 38 overall pick.

Last season, Jones racked up 1,550 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns in his final collegiate campaign. There are some concerns about Jones’ ability to handle a big workload, but the Bucs will be able to limit his usage thanks to the presence of Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Charles Sims.

Here’s the complete rundown of the Bucs’ 2018 draft class, via PFR’s draft tracker:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft Rumors: Guice, Redskins, Patriots, Bills, Giants, Darnold

Running back Derrius Guice visited the Redskins at their team facility on Monday, a source tells John Keim of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The Redskins have been public about their desire to add a pass-catching running back and Guice, with 18 catches last year at LSU, would fit the bill.

With needs to address on the other side of the ball, many believe that the Redskins will take a defensive player at No. 13 overall. However, the Redskins could probably trade back into the early 20s to take Guice and address their defensive holes later on.

Here’s the latest round of NFL draft news:

  • The Patriots hosted UCLA left tackle Kolton Miller on a pre-draft visit, Ben Volin of The Boston Globe tweets.
  • Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen met with the Bills on Monday and will travel to the Giants on Tuesday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Meanwhile, USC QB Sam Darnold met with the Giants on Monday and will meet with the Jets on Tuesday.
  • Linebacker Rashaan Evans visited the Bengals on Monday, Rapoport tweets. The Bengals own the No. 21 pick in the draft, which could allow them to snag the Alabama standout.
  • Speaking of Alabama, Rapoport also notes that standout defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne met with the Redskins on Monday. Payne has shot up draft boards in recent weeks thanks to his remarkable strength. “He’s the best. He’s the best I’ve seen,”Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran said earlier this year. “I’ve never seen a guy hit 385 on the power clean every single year. His first year he hit 365 on the power clean and it was like wow, freshman, that’s incredible.
  • USC running back Ronald Jones visited the Patriots on Monday, Rapoport tweets. Within the same tweet, he notes that Stanford safety Justin Reid visited the Panthers before heading off to his Steelers visit.
  • Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson took a pre-draft visit to meet with the 49ers on Monday, a league source told Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. The 49ers have the ninth pick in the first round and Jackson is projected to come off the board as a middle-to-late first-round pick.
  • LSU pass-rusher Arden Key visited the Bears on Monday, Rapoport tweets. He also notes Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller visited the Redskins on Monday and Tulane cornerback Parry Nickerson visited the Raiders.

Draft Rumors: Jones, Michel, Jets, Tackles

Ronald Jones ranks as the No. 20 overall prospect on NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s big board, but the USC running back has apparently not helped his cause much this offseason. A poor showing at the Trojans’ pro day last month drew scrutiny from some evaulators around the league, Jeremiah said (via Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune). The draft expert notes Jones’ stock has taken a bit of a hit. He does not project Jones (1,550 rushing yards last season, 20 total touchdowns) to be a first-round pick but does envision a bit of a sleeper making it into Day 1. Jones visited the Broncos this week and could be an option when their Round 2 pick (No. 37) arrives.

Jeremiah expects Sony Michel to be the third running back selected in the first round later this month, following Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice. Some NFL teams are likening the Georgia back to Alvin Kamara, per Jeremiah. The speed complement to Nick Chubb with the Bulldogs, Michel posted two 1,000-yard rushing seasons — the latest a 1,227-yard showing that came with an incredible 7.9 yards per carry — and looks to be entering the first-round conversation.

Here’s the latest on this year’s draft class.

  • Baker Mayfield‘s strong offseason notwithstanding, the Heisman Trophy recipient is still viewed as somewhat of a polarizing prospect because of his past. But Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes the quarterback presented himself well during meetings with Jets brass this week. Cimini rates Mayfield as the second-best fit for the Jets at No. 3, behind Sam Darnold.
  • Teams in need of tackles should temper expectations about this year’s class, Jeremiah said. Following a draft that saw its first tackle (Garett Bolles) go off the board at No. 20, Jeremiah said tackle is one of this year’s weakest positions, along with edge rusher. He does not view any of this year’s tackle prospects as being worth a top-20 pick.
  • Having now seen multiple starting offensive linemen retire this offseason, the Bills may have a dilemma going into the draft. The team has long been rumored to be targeting a top-five pick in the draft, but Mike Rodak of ESPN.com writes that the team — with the Jets and the Browns essentially locked in on QBs at Nos. 1 and 3 — would have to target the Giants’ No. 2 pick to have much certainty on one of its top choices still being there to draft. Rodak opines the Bills, who have seen Eric Wood and Richie Incognito announce intentions to retire, may be better off standing pat and bolstering their depth chart at other positions. Of course, the Bills have only A.J. McCarron in place at this point and would be gambling without making a serious investment in the position this month.
  • The Josh Allen-to-Cleveland buzz should be taken seriously, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com writes. Noting John Dorsey‘s decision to supply the Chiefs with raw talent Patrick Mahomes when a more productive Deshaun Watson was on the board, and the then-Kansas City GM’s decision to select higher-upside Eric Fisher over a more proven Luke Joeckel, should give Browns fans an inclination the gifted Wyoming talent with some statistical red flags could be the team’s No. 1 overall pick.

NFL Draft Rumors: Broncos, Jones, Jaguars

The Broncos hosted USC running back Ronald Jones on a pre-draft visit on Thursday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Jones, a likely first or second round pick, is coming off of a Monday visit with the Redskins.

It’s very unlikely that Jones is in play at No. 5 overall, but the Broncos also hold the eighth pick in the second round (No. 40 overall), so Jones could be a consideration there.

Here’s the latest round of NFL Draft news:

  • South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert visited with the Jaguars, Alex Marvez of The Sporting News tweets. All in all, Goedert says he has worked out for or visited with “15 to 20 teams.”
  • Pittsburgh tackle Brian O’Neill met with the 49ers, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area tweets. As a former tight end, O’Neill has tremendous athleticism for the left tackle position.
  • NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb says that he he does not have a visit lined up with the Browns and the same goes for Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Albert Breer of The MMQB tweets. However, that doesn’t mean that either player is out of consideration for Cleveland. The Browns are apparently comfortable with the medicals and character of both players.
  • The Patriots are hosting Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans now that his White House trip is over, Rapoport tweets.