Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
41. USC RB Ronald Jones II
5-foot-11, 205 pounds
Key stat: Jones finished his USC career fifth on the team’s career rushing list — behind only Charles White, Marcus Allen, Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell, and ahead of Reggie Bush — with 3,619 yards in three seasons. Jones scored at least one touchdown in 19 of his final 20 games.
The skinny: Texas native came west to USC as a football and track star and broke into Trojans’ lineup as a freshman, splitting carries his first two seasons with Justin Davis. But Jones earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors and broke White's school freshman rushing record with 987 yards. And in 2016, Jones finished the season strong after Davis’ injury by earning second-team all-Pac-12 honors with 1,082 rush yards and 12 touchdowns. Outshined in that season’s Rose Bowl by Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, but Jones led the Trojans to a 52-49 victory with two touchdowns and earned respect for honoring the late Joe McKnight by wearing his No. 4 jersey in the game.
Jones was named third-team All-American as a junior in 2017 with 1,550 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. He also spent a brief time with the track team in the spring of 2016, running third leg on USC’s victorious 400-meter relay team in the UCLA Dual (the quartet clocked 39.89 seconds) in his one event.
Jones declared early for the 2018 NFL draft. He opted not to perform any drills other than the 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds) and vertical jump (36.5 inches) at the NFL scouting combine. Jones will turn 21 years old early in training camp.
Upside: Consistent production, even with limited snaps early in career. Averaged more than a touchdown per game — 42 scores in 41 games at USC. Gradually increased receiving production over his three years. Appears to catch the ball naturally and in stride. Wasn’t featured much in this area with Trojans but could see expanded role in NFL.
More game-to-game rushing consistency in 2017. More assertive, take-charge runner last season. Slasher with make-you-miss ability. Always seems to be falling forward after contact. Pinballs off first contact, can spin and keep his feet beneath him to drive forward. Can make something out of nothing. One-cut runner — presses the hole and drives with burst. Watch Jones flash a jump cut to make UCLA LB Kenny Young (a 2018 late-round prospect) whiff on the tackle and then get to the second level and fight through contact for additional yards:
Effort blocker in space — was often used to lead the way on WR screens. Still has tread on tires. Good ball security (two lost fumbles on 623 career touches). Became offensive focal point in 2017 following graduation of three starting linemen and two starting receivers. Averaged virtually same yards per carry (6.1) in heavy-workload games — 18 carries or more — as he did in lower-volume games.
Downside: Bottled up as runner against top rush defenses of Texas and Ohio State. Will occasionally try to bounce runs outside when there’s no hole. Impatience shows up in spots. Exposed body to some massive shots; needs to protect himself better and know when to avoid contact.
So-so testing numbers at NFL combine — expected to perform better. Tiny hands. Limited strength potential, even with the pop he packs in his runs. Might never be a true volume runner in NFL. Smaller frame might not be built for consistent 250-touch seasons. Primarily a checkdown receiver in college with limited route tree (wheels, swings, posts, outs, ins).
Little discernable special-teams value coming into the league — never returned punts or kickoffs at USC. Pass-block technique needs refinement. Watch here as Jones and teammate Daniel Imatorbhebhe do a poor job of trying to double-team Ohio State’s Nick Bosa (Joey’s brother and a top 2019 draft prospect) on the speed-to-power rush, which gets USC QB Sam Darnold crushed:
Best-suited destination: Jones could be a featured runner for an offense seeking his juice and burst and could expand his receiving duties, provided they have some kind of change-up back to pair with Jones and manage his workload smartly. Among the teams that could be a good fit for his services include the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Quotable: “Impact. Dynamic playmaker. I can catch, run, return, line me up wherever. I can do it all, just trying to help the team win.” — Jones, when asked what he’ll bring to a team at the NFL scouting combine
Player comp: A mashup of Jamaal Charles and DeAngelo Williams
Expected draft range: Round 2
50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes