Recapping the offseason rollercoaster ride of Ronald Jones
In a surprising move, Ronald Jones made the Chiefs’ 53-man roster on Tuesday after what can only be considered an up-and-down training camp.
When the Chiefs pulled the trigger on signing free agent running back Ronald Jones II back on March 27, the decision was met with optimism from head coach Andy Reid. As a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jones had amassed back-to-back seasons with 1,000+ all-purpose yards in 2019 and 2020 before injuries derailed his 2021 campaign. Reid viewed Jones as a solid building block for a one-two punch in the backfield for the Chiefs in 2022.
Overall the move was fairly exciting for the fanbase as well. In the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LV loss to the Bucs, Jones helped salt away the Chiefs’ hope of pulling off a miracle with 4 carriers for 23 yards on the Buccaneers’ first drive of the fourth quarter, taking 5:20 off of the clock and ending any hope the Chiefs may have had of erasing the Buccaneers 22 point lead.
In theory, if the Chiefs had a back like Jones in 2021, there are numerous games where that strategy could have been deployed—specifically two against the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals.
Some fans hypothesized that Jones would in fact be coming for the starting job held by incumbent Clyde Edwards-Helaire. As is the case in most instances, the overreaction is never the correct reaction. Initial reports of the signing indicated that Jones was inked to a one-year, $5 million contract. As the details came out in the days following the signing, it was clear that the Chiefs’ intentions were more geared towards bringing him into camp to compete for a roster spot than they were to make him a bell cow every down back.
Nonetheless, the addition of Jones was a much-needed relief at the time. Three days prior, the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for a boat load of draft capital, so the addition of Jones as well as the signing of free agent receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling showed the Kingdom that general manager Brett Veach was not in fact asleep as many had estimated and was firmly in control of the Chiefs off-season wagon.
With the addition of rookie Isiah Pacheco in the draft and re-signing of free agent Jerrick McKinnon, the running back room looked primed for competition when camp kicked off in late July. The rise in excitement for Jones’ arrival and a revamped backfield persisted through the summer as dreams of Lombardis danced through the heads of fans. With Edwards-Helaire leading the charge, McKinnon providing a similar pop to what he contributed down the stretch in 2021, and Pacheco, Jones, and Derrick Gore bolstering the unit, the Chiefs appeared to be set for camp to provide us with a survival of the fittest arms race for the (projected) three running back spots on the roster.
But a funny thing happened when camp began to unfold. Jones initially took a majority of the snaps with the twos in team and inside sessions, but the emergence of Pacheco began to turn some heads in St. Joseph. Throughout the course of the few weeks of training camp leading to the team’s preseason debut against the Chicago Bears, Pacheco surpassed Jones on the depth chart.
Regardless of his position on the depth chart, Jones got more opportunities than any other Chiefs running back to display his abilities in that first preseason game. Edwards-Helaire and Pacheco both only handled the ball out of the backfield twice, Jones got 4 carriers. What did he do with them? Gained 1 yard. Granted, he did this behind an offensive line that was pieced together with players who mostly didn’t make the roster, but the result was not one that stirred a lot of optimism for Jones’s chances of making the 53-man roster.
Back to the drawing board. How could Jones come out in Preseason Week 2 and get his ball rolling in the right direction again? Sadly he wouldn’t get the chance to show it. Jones was targeted once in the passing game for a 3-yard reception and got 0 carries out of the team’s 24 rushing attempts. Pacheco got 4, Derrick Gore got 5, and even Tayon Fleet-Davis got 5 carrier. None for Jones.
At this point, Jones appeared to be on the outside looking in as it pertained to making the Chiefs 53-man roster. He would need a strong showing in practice and the Chiefs’ preseason finale—a.k.a. the dress rehearsal for fringe roster guys—to avoid being one of the guys sent packing when the team trimmed from 80 players to the final 53. With his back against the wall, Jones came out with a nice showing against Green Bay, rushing for 43 yards on 8 carriers (5.4 YPC) to go with 1 catch for 4 yards. But would it be enough to ensure him a roster spot?
Fans tend to forget that a lot of what trips up NFL players is the mental and behavioral aspect of fitting in with an organization. Yes, rapport with teammates and performance on the field is ultimately what makes a player stick. But there is a certain way of doing things when you walk into a new building, and the Chiefs building is one of high expectation and accountability. Head coach Andy Reid said after the preseason finale that Jones was “starting to get it” down the stretch.
Whether he’s getting it on the field, in the film room, or in the weight room, it appears the leadership at 1 Arrowhead Drive has enough faith in Ronald Jones to include him in their plans for the 2022 regular season. It will be interesting to see how Jones can perform with guys like Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Joe Thuney blocking for him instead of David Steinmetz, Rodrick Johnson, and Mike Caliendo.
Many may be skeptical of leaving Jones on the 53-man roster instead of players like Danny Shelton, Taylor Stallworth, or Daurice Fountain, but if there is one thing that we all should have learned by now it’s that we should leave the football decisions to the guys who know how to pull the strings the best: Brett Veach and Andy Reid.
Ronald Jones has been down bad, but it would appear he’s on the way back up.