It’s a major reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose running back Ronald Jones II in the second round of April’s draft.
“He’s a real explosive runner,” general manager Jason Licht said soon after making the pick.
“He’s explosive, and he’s going to help,” coach Dirk Koetter said moments later.
For Tampa Bay, explosiveness isn’t just a trait. It’s also a measure of productivity.
Koetter regularly cites the importance of explosive plays. He believes that — besides turnovers — they’re the biggest factor in deciding who wins and who loses. The definition varies, but the standard for Koetter is a pass play of at least 16 yards or a run play of at least 12 yards.
Last season, Bucs running backs were about as explosive as an ice bath. The team had 19 explosive runs last season, tied with Washington for second fewest. (The Cardinals were last with 17.)
It was the second straight season in which the Bucs saw a decline in explosive runs. They went from 42 in 2015 to 25 in 2016.
It’s no wonder the Bucs made their run game a priority this offseason. In addition to drafting Jones, they signed Ryan Jensen to play center, which will allow Ali Marpet to move back to guard, his original position. They also traded up to draft guard/tackle Alex Cappa in the third round.
Will Jones deliver the explosive runs the Bucs offense has so sorely lacked? To get a better sense of his big-play potential, I revisited his college career and tallied his runs of at least 12 yards. Then I compared his performance with the running backs taken before him — Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
Jones didn’t have the highest rate of explosive runs, but he and Barkley — the second overall pick — were nearly even.
Explosive runs per 100 carries
|Rashaad Penny||San Diego State||488||15.0|
|Saquon Barkley||Penn State||671||13.0|
|Ronald Jones II||Southern California||591||12.7|
Perhaps Penny wasn’t as much of a reach as many draft analysts have suggested, at least by this measure. Recent history suggests a high rate of explosive runs in college signals NFL success. When I did this exercise last year, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt — eventual third-round picks — ranked higher than Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey — eventual first-round picks. In their rookie seasons, Kamara and Hunt proved to be the greater explosive threats.
Explosive runs per 100 carries, 2017 draft prospects
|Dalvin Cook||Florida State||687||15.7|
|Marlon Mack||South Florida||586||14.0|
|Leonard Fournette||Louisiana State||616||12.2|
It can be difficult to isolate how much of a running back’s success is the result of his vision, speed and elusiveness and how much is the result of the blocking in front of him or the quality of the opponent.
With that in mind, I also looked at each running back’s rate of explosive runs against opponents in the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC). Penny still led, though his sample of carries was by far the smallest. Jones’ effectiveness didn’t slip much — almost 90 percent of his explosive runs came against Power 5 opponents.
Explosive runs per 100 carries, vs. Power 5 opponents
|Rashaad Penny||San Diego State||64||18.8|
|Saquon Barkley||Penn State||595||12.6|
|Ronald Jones II||Southern California||554||11.9|
Last season, Kamara and Hunt set the bar ridiculously high for rookie running backs. Jones probably won’t have the same immediate impact, but if he can help the Bucs’ rushing attack return to anywhere near 2015 efficiency, he’ll be on track to proving he was worth the second-round pick.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.