One of most exciting prospects to watch in this year’s draft, Ronald Jones found himself among the top-five running backs available even prior to arriving at the Scouting Combine having added weight to his frame. Jones was incredibly successful as a runner during his time at USC, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and scoring 39 touchdowns on the ground in three seasons. He has drawn Jamaal Charles comparisons because of the hair, the jersey number, the ridiculous yards per carry and yes, the running style.
Attention will now turn to the Trojans’ pro day and Jones’ weigh-in, to see if he did indeed land at his goal of 210 pounds. He’s expected to re-test at the pro day as well, after pulling up on his first 40-yard dash attempt in Indianapolis.
Jones possess perhaps the best stop-start ability in the entire draft class and absolutely devastates defenders with his cuts. He has the athletic ability to reverse field and still turn the corner. “Defend every blade of grass” has to take on a very literal meaning for defenders who faced the Trojan phenom.
One day Ronald Jones will have a James Harden-Wesley Johnson moment on the football field, his suddenness is devastating pic.twitter.com/8u4pwm0nHP— Alistair Corp (@alistaircorp) March 8, 2018
Jones hits the hole with great anticipation and speed. Despite his smaller stature, there are flashes of the total package: Stepping out of tackles at the line of scrimmage , breaking into the second level of the defense and finishing physically. He has good vision and creativity in spotting cutback lanes when the called run isn’t there and of course has the athletic ability to execute after spotting cutback lanes.
A combination of small stature and a leaky offensive line (38th in adjusted line yards per Football Outsiders) makes Jones’ elusiveness a difficult evaluation. He has one of the lowest figures of the last three years in both yards created per attempt and missed tackles forced per attempt, both via Graham Barfield.
Jones may be RB 3 or 4 in his draft class but he's RB1 when it comes to completely deflating a defender at the LOS pic.twitter.com/6sO4wnCSAt— Alistair Corp (@alistaircorp) March 8, 2018
Assuming Jones is fully recovered by USC’s pro day, we will finally get a sense of exactly how fast he is. Even a 40-yard dash in the 4.4s likely won’t do his play speed justice. His ability to get back to full speed after hesitating around defenders is next-level. His slashing running style is deadly on outside runs and in an offense with quick-footed offensive linemen, Jones could have tremendous success on outside zone runs.
Finish/Yards After Contact
Jones’ athletic ability and raw speed makes him electric in the hole, but he runs into trouble if defenders are able to square him up in-tight. His relentless dynamism allows him to gain extra yardage at the end of runs without the physicality that comes with breaking tackles. Even as a smaller running back, he did an impressive job of finishing runs at USC and ran tough. Jones is a reliable back at the end of runs, fumbling just once every 207.7 touches, the third highest number in 2018’s draft class.
Two defenders have Ronald Jones dead to rights and he ends up with the first down on a tough run pic.twitter.com/sBvMeVHefL— Alistair Corp (@alistaircorp) March 8, 2018
If he does get into that 210-pound range, these runs are reassuring. Jones runs tough inside and doesn't shy away from finishing pic.twitter.com/Fw2Phzbbrm— Alistair Corp (@alistaircorp) March 8, 2018
With just 32 catches in three seasons, Jones doesn’t have much usage in the passing game heading into the pros. However, his elusiveness and terrific burst are two great traits to bring to the table as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. If you can get Jones into space, be it on a screen pass or on a wheel downfield with a rub route packaged in, he can be effective. As a blocker, Jones did about as well as someone in his frame could do. He’s easily overpowered and is no match for oncoming linebackers.
Overall, Jones is a dynamic, slashing runner who can break off chunk runs at any moment. The biggest question is over his weight, but if he is able to add weight to his frame and carries it OK, he is right at the top of the second tier of backs along with the Georgia duo and a couple others. If he is limited to 12-15 touches a game at the next level, it will be 12-15 highly effective touches.