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Rookie Faceoff: Draft Royce Freeman Over Ronald Jones

Coffee or tea? Boxers or briefs? PPR or Standard? These are the age-old debates that define us. Over the coming weeks, our writers will add a few more to this list. That’s right — it’s rap-battle season.

In this Rookie Faceoff, John Lapinski and Neil Dutton go toe-to-toe over two running backs who compete for early picks in dynasty rookie drafts. Be sure to check out John’s counterargument.

The field of running backs behind Saquon Barkley in this year’s rookie drafts is more unsettled than any season in recent memory. The order of players picked in the top half of drafts is routinely shuffled depending on which draft you’re in, and there’s no clear-cut order to the picks. Currently, new Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ronald Jones is usually being drafted ahead of Royce Freeman, who the Denver Broncos drafted in the third round. This is, in my humble opinion, a mistake.

The Case for Ronald Jones

To be clear from the start, drafting Jones is not a decision that will make me hate you forever. My esteemed colleague John Lapinski, in his case for Jones over Freeman, argues that Jones’ injury-affected 40-yard-dash time dinged him in our RotoViz Prospect lab score.

NAME AGE WT FORTY CONE ATTS YPG TDS RECS SCORE
Ronald Jones 20.3 205 4.48 7.1* 20.1 119.2 1.54 1.1 59
Royce Freeman 22 229 4.54 6.9 20.3 122.9 1.3 1.2 62

John also makes mention of the fact that Jones used his actual speed to break off really big runs at the college level, especially runs of 30 or more yards.

Player Rush Attempts 15+ Runs 20+ Runs 30+ Runs 40+ Runs 50+ Runs
Ronald Jones 589 51 32 17 14 10
Royce Freeman 941 86 47 18 8 4

Freeman had more big runs, as you can see. But in terms of breakaway run rate, both broke free for gains of 15 yards or more on about 9 percent of their carries. Jones’ 3 percent rate of runs gaining at least 30 yards just edges Freeman’s 2 percent.

Jones is also younger than Freeman, and we know that age matters when it comes to RBs.

So why would I take Freeman over Jones?

The Case for Royce Freeman

While age really matters with RBs, another thing that really matters, for every position, is the landing spot. In this regard, Freeman has the edge over Jones in my opinion.

In landing with the Broncos, Freeman finds himself a member of a team that had the eighth-most running plays in the NFL in 2017, with 457. C.J. Anderson had 245 of those carries, a healthy 53.6 percent, and he is now in Carolina. He leaves behind Freeman, Devontae Booker, and DeAngelo Henderson.

Booker is the proud owner of a 3.6 yards-per-attempt career mark and has shown little to suggest he can be an effective workhorse in the NFL. He has had double-digit carries in nine of his 29 career games and has averaged 3.55 yards per attempt or less in seven of them. Booker could carve out a role as a pass-catching back, given his 61 receptions over the last two seasons. But Freeman is no slouch in the receiving game himself, with 79 catches at Oregon. As a 25-year-old rookie, Henderson appeared in only five games in 2017. Five of his seven career rushing attempts came in Week 17, where he amassed 15 yards.

While Jones also seems to be atop his own depth chart, there are other factors in play against him. The Bucs were not nearly as committed to the run in 2017, with the 26th-most running plays and the third-most passes. A back who can contribute more in the passing game would seem to be an asset in Tampa, and that is not Jones. His three years with USC saw him catch 32 passes and no more than 14 in a single season. The Bucs have Charles Sims, with 129 receptions in the last four seasons, and Peyton Barber who had 12 receptions in his last five games of the 2017 season. Both of these should hamper Jones’ opportunities.

There is also a recent report suggesting that the Buccaneers should consider bringing in free agent Adrian Peterson. This may be nothing more than dot connecting, but if it is being considered I think it is safe to assume that Peterson is not going to be brought in to catch passes. He would compete with Jones for early down work.

Conclusion

As talented as Jones is — and I do think he is talented — the very fact that he is on the Buccaneers is the main reason why I would take Freeman over him. The Broncos are a team that appears committed to the ground game, and Freeman should be given most of the early-down opportunities with Case Keenum at quarterback. Staying balanced between run and pass is a strategy that should allow Kennum to thrive too, as he led the league in play action pass completion percentage in 2017 (68.3 percent). While Jones fill a similar role with his team, the Bucs are not going to stay with the ground game for as long as the Broncos will. Both have some competition for targets in the passing game, but Freeman at least has shown that he can handle a passing down workload. Jones … has not.

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