I remember when Ronald Jones II was coming out, I was enamored with his explosive ability. Sure he was a lighter sub-200-pound running back, but the home run upside appeared real enough given the lateral agility he showed at USC. After an abysmal rookie season (playing in only 9 games), he played 14+ games over the next three seasons without crossing the 1000-yard threshold. The thing is he averaged 4.2 YPC in two of those three years and achieved a 5.1 average in the Super Bowl-winning season. That 5.1 average was 6th in 2020.
It appears that Ronald Jones II has found his new home in Kansas City. With his only competition being Clyde Edward-Helaire, can this 1-year deal be seen as an opportunity for Jones or is his value capped? What can we expect from Ronald Jones II in 2022?
The Chiefs' offense focuses heavily on Zone scheme, but favors Outside Zone (OZ) (30.3% to 22.1%). CEH has a clear advantage in OZ RBV-ASR here by 9.1%. However, Jones has the advantage (10.7%) on Inside Zone (IZ) runs. Maybe the Chiefs will seek a better balance between Inside and Outside Zone and feel that Jones is the key to better IZ production. Kansas City only ran Counter 7.9% of the time, but it was the fourth-highest rate of the scheme among 2021 NFL teams. Jones has a 16.3% edge here as well.
To gain additional perspective on what this move could mean, Tampa Bay's offensive line was good in run blocking. Per PFF, Tampa Bay was 9th in "Run" grade (84.5) and 14th in run-blocking (72.8). Landing in Kansas City looks to be an upgrade in the quality of run blocking with a PFF grade of 86.0 (T-2nd). We should see an improvement in Jones' production assuming his opportunities increase.
Let me tell you, it was tough to go back and watch this tape. This isn't really a cap on Ronald Jones, but it's always challenging to watch a player you remember being more explosive and dynamic. It seems the additional weight he decided to put on after the rookie campaign stole some of his agility and homerun speed. Given these changes to his body composition and movement ability, it is plausible that he is still learning how to play at this weight.
Another area that popped out as concerning is that his vision seems to be narrowed. After chewing on the 'why' of it all, the only thing that came to mind is a potential coaching influence. Given the heavy usage in Zone in college and his tendency to bounce runs outside, tough coaching to reduce unnecessary attempts to get the edge may have affected his overall running approach. The tape shows his style to be more 1-cut and downhill these days.
Jones often gets a little more than what was blocked with the occasional explosive play. Unfortunately, there were plenty of situations where he appeared too committed to what was in front of him. A split-second of patience would have revealed a lot of green space to exploit.
When you see the leverage, you begin to see the extent of his pre-decision. When he makes his hop step he is already committed to moving downhill.
This was still a positive play, and he does this a lot. Sub-optimal decisions that leave meat on the bone don't necessarily become negative plays. Maybe this is the quality the Chiefs were seeking. If he could find his way back towards his college self just a little to exploit those opportunities, he could become an extremely explosive factor for a team. Despite his long speed being a shadow of what it used to be, he still demands good angles if he gets to the second level. Perhaps a difference in coaching helps Jones balance his current downhill nature with his previous preference to bounce outside and eat up opportunities like the one shown above.
As an optimist, it's hard not to see the upside of this new home for Jones. He clearly brings the edge in Inside Zone runs. Running backs in good offenses are always valuable, and the downhill style could be just what the Chiefs need to improve their capabilities, especially in the red zone. The recent departure of Tyreek Hill is sure to affect the explosiveness of Kansas City's offense meaning that they will likely need to grind out more yards on the ground.
It is entirely possible that CEH transitions to a change-of-pace back, especially given his usage in the passing game (77 targets in 23 games). This could open up the two-down thumper role to Jones which would be valuable to fantasy managers if the per-game opportunities are consistent. Given the perceived sub-optimal landing spot, Jones could be a low-end RB2 by the time everything is said and done. Don't forget that CEH has missed 11 games over his first two seasons in Kansas City. Ronald Jones will have some upside in opportunities if that trend continues. Buy low if you can.