by Nick Ercolano
June 11, 2018
Another #InTheMuckMonday for you, diving into two rookie running backs in Royce Freeman of the Denver Broncos and Ronald Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, discussing who is the better pick for 2018 fantasy football.
Ronald Jones - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2nd Round, Pick 38
56 Overall, RB26
Royce Freeman - Denver Broncos
3rd Round, Pick 71
57 Overall, RB27
I'll let you know straight outward here, that I'm much lower on Rojo for fantasy this year than the far majority of people.
Most would assume that RoJo slips right into the starting role. I'm not sure about that. We look at the situation, there's RoJo atop the depth chart, and then we have Peyton Barber and Charles Sims beneath him.
Here's why I think this actually was a much worse situation for RoJo to land in then most expected. Obviously, the Bucs needed to add an RB, and they got who they think is their guy in RoJo, however, I think his weaknesses, are complemented by the other two backs on the roster, and this will force RoJo to limited field time. You look at Peyto Barber first. Barber's a young back, just turned 24, but his size is what concerns me for RoJo's sake. Rojo, who weighed in at 5'11, 205lbs, is 20lbs less than Barber, who has a similar height but tips the scale at 225. My thought is that the Bucs will use Barber as their GL back. They leaned on him down the stretch last year, averaging 18 touches/game over the Bucs final 5 games of the szn, showing ability near the GL and in the receiving game, out-catching Charles Sims 12-9 in that same span. Barber was barely used over the first half of the year, and still wound up with 8 carries inside-the-5, which was tied for 12th highest among NFL running backs.
So we're talking GL carries. Then we look at 3rd down. Blocking and receiving. RoJo is a willing blocker and showed signs that he can do it, but he did also grade out as the worst pass-blocker, among RBs, in Graham Barfield's yards created history. The second area of third down we need to be attentive of is pass-catching. Now I don't personally think Charles Sims is Le'Veon Bell, although just a year or two ago, people were anointing him a top-5, top-3 receiving back in the NFL. At worst, he's a better pass-catcher than Jones is. Now, do not confuse what I'm saying here. I'm not saying that Jones isn't capable of catching passes, because I'm sure he is, any NFL running back not named Jordan Howard probably has pretty good hands, but you can't just assume that because YOU THINK he can catch, that's it, he's their pass-catching back. A lot of people make this mistake, myself included. Jones caught just 32 balls in total in 40 career games at USC, that's 0.8/game. Take that as you want it. Maybe they didn't want to overuse him. Maybe he just isn't a good pass-catcher. But the numbers are there, and we're yet to see him as a capable high-volume pass catcher, so there's no reason to automatically assume he becomes one. You have to be realistic. TB is probably going to be using Sims a lot on 3rd down and in the receiving game. Couple that with the fact that they DO have a pass-catcher in Sims and the outlook dims a bit.
The other thing that scares me about Jones is that, if you watch him, yes he looks unbelievable explosive at times and sees a hole and hits it like he's going to die if he doesn't. However, he's not a guy that can power through defenders, nor is he great at making guys miss, so given the burst, acceleration and his style of play, he's going to need holes to hit. This Bucs o-line isn't a good run-blocking line. In fact, they were really bad last year. According to PlayerProfiler, they were the 27th in run-blocking efficiency, according to PFF they were also 27th ranked in average yards before contact for running backs. Jones isn't a guy that will be a beast in fantasy if he's consistently getting hit behind the line of scrimmage.
I'm afraid RoJo is just going to be the next Ameer Abdullah. A guys talent you absolutely fall in love with, the burst, acceleration is there, but he's small, same size, and they don't give a beating to the defenders. AA ran behind an awful offensive line in DET, RoJo will in TB, at best average, but probably worse. Just like Ameer, RoJo has guys on the depth chart that fill-in the gaps in his same. Charles Sims, like Theo Riddick, and Peyton Barber, like, whoever has been stealing all of Abdullah's GL carries. I'm afraid with RoJo you're getting an exciting player who is going to get early-down carries and not much else, in an offensive that should be okay, with a bad offensive line.
And I get it, if you absolutely loved him in college, it's going to be nearly impossible to talk you out of him. And there certainly are positives, like the fact that they took him 38th overall, that's heavy draft capital, and who knows, maybe they will give him GL work and passing work, but all I'm saying is be realistic, and don't just expect that to be the case. Per The Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman expects Peyton Barber and second-round rookie Ronald Jones to initially "share the load" in the Bucs' backfield.
Also, regarding that 2nd round draft capital, Russell Clay tweeted out this nugget the other day, suggest you go follow him as well.
I think people comparing RoJo to Jamaal Charles might not realize that JC had ELITE speed, burst, acceleration and passing-catching ability.
Okay, so where I stand on these two is this: RoJo is more talented, Freeman wins in opportunity. With C.J. and JC, Anderson and Jamaal Charles gone, that opens up a massive 314 carries ad 62 targets, 376 total RB opportunities. I was shocked when I saw this number. I just couldn't believe, with Booker still there, who himself had about 110 touches, that so much work was available. And then I came across a stat the other day. Last year, the Jaguars were the ONLY team in the NFL that ran more plays from scrimmage than the Broncos. I was shocked, they're ahead of teams like the Patriots, the Eagles, etc. So, I think in a sense, you should expect that number to regress for sure. Despite being 5-11 and having one of the worst records in the NFL, obviously trailing a lot, they still were the 12th heaviest passing team in the NFL. And that was with the shitshow at QB. I expect their team to be improved for sure, and with Keenum, they should be more comfortable throwing the ball, that plays from scrimmage digressing, all-around less opportunity should be had in that backfield.
That being said, there's not a lot of competition for Freeman in the backfield, other than Devontae Booker. "He's a great addition to the backfield," Elway said. "Bellcow type. First and second down. He's a guy we needed. We needed a thumper." - Straight from the mouth of John Elway. Now who is Royce Freeman, he was a 4-year player out of Oregon, racking up a ridiculous 6,435 career yards from scrimmage mark along with 64 touchdowns. He never had a szn with fewer than 1,110 total yards & 10 touchdowns. He's built like a ball, 6-0, 229lbs. Like Elway said, he's a thumper. But he's also got great straight-line speed, 4.54 40, puts him in the 86th % for WASS. However, a back like that, like RoJo is going to need holes. I'm not sure we're going to get that in Denver, they ranked 9th worst in the NFL per PFF in terms of yards before contact for RBs. Nothing suggests that o-line will be much better in 2018.
Overall, Freeman is a good all-around back, but not great at anything. I think he's going to have some trouble creating missed tackles in Denver, but the volume might outweigh that.
When it comes down to it, I'm going to take Freeman here. They both have question marks, they both have opportunity. But, when I have unproven guys, tht I don't necessarily love, I'm going to go with the opportunity every time. I think Freeman is likely to get just as many carries as RoJo, overall and he has a better chance to be the GL back, and be just as involved in the passing game. I think if you're taking RoJo here, you're banking on a few big breakout runs, which of course are very possible given his style of play, but it could turn into an absolute nightmare on a week-to-week basis, while I think Freeman gives you a nice solid volume floor.
For what it's worth, vegas odds:
Rookie to have the most rushing yards in 2018:
Saquon Barkley: -110
Rashaad Penny: +150
Sony Michel: +325
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