When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais to join Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale, the backfield already felt crowded. When they signed LeSean McCoy, it made it an even bigger competition. According to Adam Schefter, they have now agreed to a one-year deal with Leonard Fournette.
What this means for Leonard Fournette
If the Buccaneers are signing Fournette at this point, it’s because they intend to give him a role. According to Albert Breer, he is expected to make around $3.5 million on his deal. That is more than any other back in Tampa Bay.
Fournette is the biggest of the Buccaneers running backs. The immediate thought is he will be a goal-line back, but his receiving ability shouldn’t be underestimated. Over the last three years, Fournette has a 74.2 PFF receiving grade. The three other backs with NFL experience on the Bucs' roster are all below 70. Because Fournette is signing with the team just over one week before the season, he might not have a huge role in Week 1. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see him taking over a lot of passing downs.
It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Fournette play in the Buccaneers' goal-line offense. Over the last three years, Fournette has 18 touchdowns from five yards to go or less, which is tied for third-most in the league. Of the 21 backs with 25 or more carries in this situation, he is one of four backs to either score a touchdown or gain a first down at least 50% of the time.
Even if he wins the goal-line work and receiving job, it’s unlikely he will see as much playing time he had in Jacksonville due to Ronald Jones. While he will no longer be a low-end RB1/high end RB2, being a low-end RB2/flex play is certainly possible due to his opportunity for touchdowns and catches.
What this means for Ronald Jones
Out of the other Buccaneers running backs, Jones is still the best. Bruce Arians has multiple times praised Jones as being the main guy.
It was unlikely for Ronald Jones to become the third-down back for the Buccaneers, so Fournette and Jones will be able to complement each other. This does hurt Jones' value because he should see fewer carries and potentially fewer touchdowns than he otherwise would have.
If Fournette is used a lot on third downs, that should leave Jones more opportunities on first and second downs. Last year with Peyton Barber there were times they would switch off drives playing first and second downs with Ogunbowale playing third downs. It’s possible we see that kind of rotation between Fournette and Jones.
As for goal-line work, Jones has converted five of six carries within five yards of scoring into touchdowns, so it’s no guarantee that Fournette takes that role away from him. Still, Jones was limited in his upside due to his lack of receiving, and now his upside rushing is also limited. He was in the conversation as a flex play before, but now he should probably only be drafted as a backup.
What this means for Everyone Else
At least one running back's job isn’t safe as roster cut down day approaches, if not more. Fournette and Jones should be assured two roster spots. Vaughn is a third-round rookie, which pretty well assures him a roster spot as well. Arians' comment regarding Vaughn’s contribution as a kick returner greatly hurt his value. For now, Vaughn shouldn’t be on the fantasy radar.
Plenty of teams only keep three running backs on the roster, but this team could keep four considering how crowded the backfield is. In terms of both grade and veteran presence, McCoy out-graded Ogunbowale in both rushing and receiving over the last three seasons. Ogunbowale did play 321 special teams snaps last year, so that might be enough for him to keep a job. Regardless, I wouldn’t be drafting either player at this point. If you’ve already drafted, you might as well keep them on the roster for a few days to see how cut down day turns out.