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How Ronald Jones II Can Fix the Chiefs’ Biggest Offensive Weakness

The Chiefs were dead last in yards after contact in 2021-22. A specialist in physical running, will Ronald Jones II solve that glaring problem?

If you still owned the cleats from your high school football days and were free from work and family responsibilities on Sundays, you might’ve been good enough to suit up and move the chains behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line last season. 

Only the Philadelphia Eagles were better at creating yards before contact than the 2021-22 Chiefs, though it’s arguable that the Chiefs’ running backs — to take a page out of Andy Reid’s book — left a ton of meat on that prime rib.

Doubly important, no team even came close to seeing light boxes and two-high safeties as often as Kansas City did, often a recipe that creates opportunities for running backs to eat. With a dead-last rank in both yards after contact (616) and yards after contact per rush (1.4), the need for a powerful runner to take advantage of that represented a gaping hole.

Enter Ronald Jones II, a player capable of running around, into and through said gaping holes.

On paper, Jones’s fit with the Chiefs looks to be hand-in-glove. The league’s worst team in generating yards post-contact just signed a player that ranked No. 1 in that stat in 2020 (3.0) and finished at the No. 14 spot in 2019. If there’s a noticeable trait in Jones’s film, it’s that he’s a powerful, gritty runner — unwilling to cede to defenders when there’s a spot he’s attempting to get to.

Of course, merely having a change-of-pace runner capable of bleeding the clock and making the Chiefs more physical won’t guarantee that his number will be called. As noted, back in January’s AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs owned an 18-point advantage and in the 14 plays with that lead, they ran nine passing plays and five rushing plays.

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On the flip side, Jones was one of just 21 ball carriers to amass 30-plus first down runs in each of 2019 and 2020. This is something the Chiefs brass likely had in mind when they offered him the one-year, $1.5 million (plus incentives) deal. And, despite being supremely talented, it wasn’t too long ago that Pro Football Focus hit on how Clyde Edwards-Helaire hasn’t been able to strike gold on those favorable opportunities as frequently as he could or should. To illustrate those opportunities in further detail:

Ask Jones, and he’ll tell you that he envisions the Chiefs’ offense having a 1-2-3 punch, adding the returning Jerick McKinnon into the equation. The Chiefs are already one of the NFL’s premier early-down teams, so it should be intriguing to see how Jones fits in. This never applies more than it does particularly along the interior, where the Chiefs have the tenth-ranked run-blocking guard, the top run-blocking center and a fifth-round reinforcement in Darian Kinnard. The fit could be optimal.

Jones hasn’t historically offered a ton as a receiver and if there were ever a reason why he’d end up in Reid’s doghouse, it’d certainly be his struggle to keep the football in hand. Despite having Tom Brady as his signal-caller for each of the last three seasons, Buccaneers quarterbacks have never recorded a 90.0 quarterback passer rating or better when targeting Jones. 

There’s also work to be done for Jones picking up blitzes as a pass protector, something Seth Keysor noted a few months back in his Chief in the North Newsletter. Jones's drop rate and six fumbles lost (the fifth-most since 2019) speak to the negatives.

On the flip side, Jones did note in his June 15 presser that the Chiefs’ coaching staff had him lining up out wide. If there’s a coaching staff that can coax something out of him as a receiving back, this would certainly be the one. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Reid and Eric Bieniemy find ways to flare Jones out where he can use that feisty, gritty style out in space and where he’s evading corners and safeties at the third level as opposed to in the trenches.

Regardless of how the receiving role plays out, Jones has done enough to have his number called upon confidently by this coaching staff in a by-committee, hot-hand type of backfield. Even during the dog days as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 back where Leonard Fournette commanded the ship, Bruce Arians still declared that it would take “something extraordinary” to get rid of Jones.

Historically, that’s how things have gone in Kansas City. Dating back to Reid’s first year in 2013, the Chiefs have had 11 different backs reach 500-plus scrimmage yards — the fifth-best mark in the NFL. There’s a place for Jones to play a role in keeping that trend going, and it should showcase itself in the box score. With No. 2 on the field breaking tackles and making plays with extra effort, perhaps the Chiefs can bid farewell to second-and-7, and say hello to second-and-5.