Potential 2018 No. 1 overall pick quarterback Sam Darnold gets all the publicity, and rightfully so, but there is another player on the USC offense who might make an even greater impact on Sundays next season.
Running back Ronald Jones stands at 6’0, 200 lbs and is a future three-down back in the league. Coming off of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, Jones might be the most underrated USC running back of all time — which is crazy to say. In his last two seasons, Jones has totaled 2,568 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. This season, he’s cracked 100-plus rushing yards nine times, and went over 190 yards twice. It’s pretty wild that his name has not been brought up in the same sentence as Saquon Barkley or Bryce Love, when he’s arguably just as talented.
According to the LA Times, Jones added 10 lbs of muscle to his frame while also keeping his burst -- which is his best attribute. Early in his career, Jones was best known as a back who dominated on the perimeter and used his speed to bounce runs outside. Now, he utilizes that added mass and his plus-vision to navigate between the tackles, which makes him more than just a future change-of-pace back in the NFL. Below, he shows off all of his tools, which includes his vision, his newly acquired tackle breaking ability and his breakaway speed.
But just because he added muscle and can bang inside, he still possesses the home run speed that separates him from other backs. Jones has 16 rushes of over 20 yards this season, including an 86-yard run and a blazing 98-yard run that got called back. He also has 39 rushes that went over 10 yards. His blend of speed and strength definitely keeps coordinators up at night.
Below, Jones bounced an inside zone run outside and utilized his track speed to burn the Arizona State defense. He first beat the safety who had a pretty good pursuit angle on him by breaking the arm tackle, then he broke a second arm tackle from behind. He goes 0 to 60 with ease, and he doesn’t let anything slow him down. Once he hits the edge, he’s gone.
One thing that limited Jones from behind a three-down back early on was his inability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s still not great at it, but he has definitely improved in that area. His teammate and electric backup Stephen Carr is the more natural route runner, but Jones has improved both his hands and his route running.
Clay Helton was particularly impressed by this grab from Jones on a wheel route against Arizona -- coincidentally a route that has always given the Buckeyes trouble.
“And then for this one to make that catch; that was probably the biggest play of the game,” Helton said, as he turned to Jones at the post-game podium. Even though it was a huge play, one can see how excited his teammates were for him after making the tough grab. Jones is a true three-down back.
While Ohio State fans will likely be wowed by Darnold, there’s a real possibility that Jones will be the one who burns the Buckeyes. He’s a complete back who could sneak into the back-end of the first round and next to Barkley, he’s the best running back they’ve faced all season. With the defense focusing on stopping Darnold and the Trojan passing game, Jones should be able to exploit the recent suspect linebacking play. One could argue that this is the most explosive and talented offense that the defense will play all season — including semifinalist Oklahoma.
There could be a shootout on the horizon in Jerry’s World.