USC RB Ronald Jones, II will become household name by season’s end

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Most, if not all, NFL Draft analysts are already familiar with Ronald Jones, II, the junior running back from USC. He ran for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016, averaging 6.1 yards per carry; A terrific season by any measure.

Those not familiar with Jones will learn who he is real quick in 2017. It’s not necessarily because he’s going to light college football on fire, even though he might. Instead, it’s because of all the attention that will be paid to USC’s quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate, Sam Darnold.

Darnold will be a weekly headliner. USC will be on all the highlight shows and the focus of significant NFL Draft talk. As a result, Jones, too, will receive more attention than similarly skilled running backs in 2017.

Jones will prove worthy of the spotlight. Standing an estimated 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he’s a quick-through-the-hole runner who’s dangerous with the ball in his hands. While not overflowing with tackle-breaking power, he’s not an easy target either. Some will argue that Jones benefits from the game planning opposing defenses have to do to stop Darnold, but that’s unfair.

Jones has field-flipping ability, evidenced by his five games with at least one run of 45 yards or longer. That trait will always find a home in the pros. He brings an NFL skill set to USC’s backfield, one that is likely going to get him drafted on Day 2 if he stays healthy and continues to produce.

For Jones to elevate into the top tier of running back prospects, he has to get better in pass protection. This is where his strength concerns really show up. He also has to bring more to the passing game as a receiver. He only secured 11 receptions in 2016, but I expect that number to jump in 2017 if he’s targeted more.

USC’s offense is going to be fun to watch all season. Every pass and just about every run will have NFL Draft relevance, which is great news for Jones’ draft stock.