Versus: RBs Myles Gaskin and Ronald Jones II

As fantasy football owners, we are often faced with the challenge of deciding who to draft between two highly-regarded players. In this first installment of the “Versus” series, I’m going to provide an overview of two 2018 NFL-draft eligible running backs as well as give my opinion on who to draft, if given the opportunity.

The Evidence

The PAC-12 conference is home to two of college football’s most highly sought after Devy prospects, Washington’s Myles Gaskin and USC’s Ronald Jones II. Jones played his high school ball in Texas and was one of the most highly sought after prospects in the nation. Gaskin was a less heralded recruit that hailed from Seattle. Both players had impressive track and field careers to go along with their production on the gridiron. Jones competes on the USC track team as a sprinter.

Gaskin and Jones are both true juniors and have been productive since they first stepped on campus. As a true freshman, Gaskin ran for 1,302 yards on 227 carries (5.7 yards per carry) and scored 14 touchdowns. Jones ran for 987 yards on 153 carries (6.5 yards per carry) and scored 8 touchdowns. Both players improved upon their 2015 seasons in 2016 as Jones finished with 1,082 yards on 177 carries (6.1 yards per carry) with 12 touchdowns and Gaskin had 1,373 yards on 237 carries (5.8 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. Jones has made 18 catches for 115 yards (6.4 yards per catch), and Gaskin has made 25 catches for 156 yards (6.2 yards per catch). So while both players boast similar production, I see more differences than similarities in their games which I will dig into.

Ronald Jones II is fast. He clocked a 100-meter time of 10.83 seconds while in high school and had reportedly run a 40-meter dash of 4.41 seconds. While he has very good long speed, I’m even more impressed by the way he can change direction while not having to gear down. Jones’ change of direction is elite. This next clip is an example of that speed and change of direction.

Ronald Jones brilliant cut and burst v. ND 2016

Jones has shown the ability to run between the tackles. I think he is at his best when he puts his foot in the ground, picks a gap and gets upfield. His quickness and change of direction present a real challenge for defenders. Here are a few examples of him displaying those traits.

Ronald Jones nice interior cuts v. Washington 2016

Ronald Jones makes Vita Vea miss v. Washington 2016

Ronald Jones long run between tackles v. Bama 2016

If the above clips and/or his highlight reel on Youtube are the primary source of scouting used when looking at Jones, it’s easy to get drawn in and see an elite prospect with a bright NFL future. However, running backs are more than just their highlight reels. I have some concerns about Jones and how his game translates to being a feature back in the NFL.

Let’s start with his size. Listed at 6’1” and 195 pounds, Jones is long and wiry. He looks like a prototypical sprinter. His height and upright running style often give defenders a large target to strike. As you can see in the clip below, he is wrestled down pretty violently.

Ronald Jones wrestled down on stretch v. Washington 2016

For a guy that is a collegiate sprinter, he gets caught from behind more than I remembered from watching him live. In the clip below, he still has enough juice to find the end zone, but Fabian Moreau sure makes up a good bit of ground against him. In the previous clip of his run against Alabama, Eddie Jackson and Minkah Fitzpatrick do the same.

Ronald Jones caught from behind too late on long TD v. UCLA 2016

Two qualities that I highly value in NFL running backs are patience and vision. When I watch Jones, I think his vision improves at the second and third levels, but when he is at or behind the line of scrimmage he leaves a lot to be desired.

Ronald Jones TFL v. Washington 2016

Ronald Jones hit at LOS v. Washington 2016

Third down capabilities are really important to me when looking at smaller running backs. Pass catching ability is a good place to start. Jones has been targeted 29 times and made 18 catches (6.4 yards per catch – 62% catch rate) the past two seasons. The second area I look at is can a back pass protect?

Ronald Jones blown up in pass blocking v. Washington 2016

Jones get bulldozed here which leads to Darnold having to get rid of the ball too early and results in an interception. If he could have at least kept his feet and given his QB one additional second, this play likely results in a completion and a first down. This is just one play and likely one of the more dramatic ones I could have selected, but there are several other examples of him struggling. That is an area where he will need to make great strides in 2017 and beyond. The final area I examine when determining how adept a running back is on third down is their ability to run with power. While Jones doesn’t run with great pad level, his explosiveness through his lower half is often enough for him to break through arm tackles. I wouldn’t label him as a power runner, but he does show nice leg drive and can run through some contact. Jones has gotten double digit carries in sixteen of his twenty-seven collegiate games and has averaged 165 carries per season. He has never missed a game in college due to injury.

Now that I’ve had a chance to talk about some of Jones’ strengths and weaknesses, I’m going to delve into Gaskin.

Listed at 5’9” and 195 pounds, Myles Gaskin has a very compact, muscular build. He has a low center of gravity, and his balance is one of his greatest assets. Gaskin has terrific footwork that he pairs with elite patience and vision. He has the ability to make defenders miss that very few other running backs in this class possess. As you can see in the clips below, he is very adept at creating yardage on his own.

Myles Gaskin great feet and vision v. Cal 2016

Myles Gaskin spin move v. Utah 2016

One of the things that Gaskin does so well is getting skinny and exploding through really tight holes. As the holes get smaller in the NFL, it’s really important for me to see college players demonstrate that ability. While he is weaving in and out of traffic, Gaskin’s ball security is impeccable. In 466 collegiate carries, Gaskin has just one fumble. That is the best ratio I have ever seen while scouting college players. In terms of athleticism, Gaskin checks all of the boxes for me. At the most recent Husky Combine, Gaskin logged a 4.45 second 40-yard dash and posted a 39-inch vertical jump. I am glad to see when a prospect’s athletic testing scores mirror their game film and Gaskin’s does just that.

While Gaskin lacks prototypical NFL feature back size, he does do a lot of things that larger backs can do while also being agile and elusive. I mentioned his low center of gravity and balance as those are two things that will really benefit him at the next level. He is one of the toughest, sub-two hundred pound backs in his class. As you can see in the clips below, he understands leverage and has great play strength.

Myles Gaskin patience and vision v. Colorado 2016

Myles Gaskin B2B powerful runs v. Colorado 2016

Myles Gaskin patience, burst and pad level v. Colorado 2016

Myles Gaskin hard run for 1st down v. Colorado 2016

I just touched on Gaskin’s ability to run with power, and you can see in that final clip how he runs hard on third and short and picks up the first down. That is a positive indicator for me in regards to his future ability on third downs. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that Washington has a very talented power back, Lavon Coleman, but Gaskin still sees the majority of short yardage and goal line opportunities. Gaskin has shown the ability to carry a heavy load as he’s eclipsed 225 carries each of the past two seasons. He has never missed a game in college due to injury.

In the passing game, Gaskin has been targeted 34 times over the past two seasons and has hauled in 25 receptions (6.2 yards per catch – 74% catch rate). He is both a willing and effective pass blocker. Gaskin passes the third down inspection for me with flying colors.

The Verdict

According to DFF’s most recent Devy ADP (Average Draft Position) info from June, Ronald Jones is RB8 and is being selected 19th overall. Myles Gaskin is RB12 and is being selected 28th overall. I believe it’s important for me to say a few things that will help me to clarify my position. I was encouraged by several colleagues to write this article. This past May, I ranked the top running backs in the 2018 class and Myles Gaskin was my RB7 and Ronald Jones was my RB9. I elected not to go with a tiered system in that article, but I can say that both players were in a similar tier for me. I entered into the process of writing this article with the assumption that these were relatively even prospects for me and this may be a tough decision. As I’ve reviewed more film and other information has been made available, my opinion has changed.

Due to their sizes, both players will likely be put under an even more intense microscope than their peers by NFL scouts this upcoming year. Using last year’s NFL-combine as a benchmark, there were thirty-three running backs in attendance. Of those thirty-three attendees, only five of those players weighed in under two hundred pounds. None of those five are currently being forecasted by anyone I know to be high-value dynasty assets. If we look back to last season’s relevant fantasy football running backs, LeSean McCoy is the only player who weighed in under two hundred pounds at the NFL-combine (198 lb.).

Based on the traits that I see in each player, I believe that one of them is being severely overvalued – Ronald Jones. I see scheme limitations for Jones due to his lack of high caliber vision and patience. Those are traits that Gaskin displays in what I would consider to be the elite category. Jones is an average pass catching back that really struggles to pass protect. Gaskin is the better of the pair. The one area that I expected Jones to have the upper hand and the part of his game that is so seductive to many is his ability to create explosive plays. Upon further review, Jones averaged a 10+ yard rush every 6.3 carries compared to Gaskin every 6.1 carries in 2016.

I am not here to declare a player’s future to be a bust. What I’ve hoped to accomplish in writing this is to express major concern over Ronald Jones’ skill set and how it relates to his current ADP. His pedigree, young age, production and potential athletic testing scores at the combine will likely benefit him when it comes to the NFL draft. While that is certainly a part of player’s overall dynasty valuation, the concerns I have about his translation to the next level as a feature back will have me, at this stage, passing on him entirely. While I still have some mild size concerns with Gaskin, his production combined with his traits he has put on tape have me believing in his ability to be a smaller, productive feature back at the next level.

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Watch and absorb college football year round and apply what I learn to DFS, Devy and Draft. Fan of the one true dynasty - Roll Tide.

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