Running back has been a neglected position in Tampa Bay for the past few years. This season, the group is flush with youth and wide open for any of the young backs to climb the depth chart.
The one secured spot is the starting role for Ronald Jones. After an abysmal rookie season, Jones flashed the burst and power that made him the Bucs' second round pick in 2018. Last year, he collected 1110 yards from scrimmage, averaging 5.1 yards per touch and rendering former starter Peyton Barber expendable.
Though Jones is likely to get the lion's share of carries, the modern NFL offense does not rely on just one running back anymore. What remains unclear is which Tampa tailback will be Jones' primary backup.
The chief combatants in this battle appear to be last year's third-down back Dare Ogunbowale and 2020 third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Ogunbowale proved himself a valuable weapon in the pass game, catching 35 passes for 286 yards. However, he did little carrying the ball between the tackles, averaging just 1.5 yards per carry.
Vaughn is one of the best running backs to ever play for Vanderbilt. In just two seasons, he became their fifth all-time rusher, recording 2272 yards. Vaughn is arguably the most efficient running back in Commodore history, averaging 6.4 yards per carry—a full yard more than any of Vandy's top-50 career rushers.
Vaughn's hard running style makes him a better fit to be Jones' direct backup, but it remains to be seen if he can handle third-down duties like Ogunbowale. Pass protection is typically the make-or-break skill for third-down backs and rookie tailbacks often struggle in this area.
There is a strong chance the Bucs will carry four running backs as they did last year, leaving one spot for a return specialist or gadget player. Last year, the spot was held by speedster T.J. Logan, who was an instant upgrade as a kick and punt returner.
Logan's chief competition will be seventh-round pick Raymond Calais. The former Louisiana-Lafayette Rajin' Cajun is just plain fast, clocking a 4.42 40-time at the NFL Combine.
Calais and Logan are similar in stature and both bring dynamic acceleration in their running. As a seventh-round pick, Calais will not be able to rely on this draft status to get him on the final roster. He will have to prove that he is the superior returner in order to beat out the more experienced Logan.