Ronald Jones is the best pure USC running back since Marcus Allen

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

With added weight bringing physicality to an already explosive running style, USC running back Ronald Jones is now fully in the realm of great Trojan backs.

Sports debate can be frustrating. There’s always a perpetual need to whittle everything down to the greatest. The greatest this, the greatest that. The G.O.A.T. in this sport, that sport and golf.

But there’s more nuance than simply being the greatest at something. To be the greatest, you must have legacy built on both accomplishments and ability. It’s equal parts history and performance.

Football, in particular, isn’t suited for such zero-sum titles. It’s why the term best, and being the best at a specific thing or a certain role brings more clarity.

Being the best is about skill and peak performance, not greatness’s longevity or championships. It’s about talent and ability, not records or trophies.

In USC’s case, it’s why Ronald Jones is the best pure running back in the last 35 years. Or more accurately, since Marcus Allen.

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The explosive Texas native has evolved greatly in his time as a Trojan, adding patience to his game as a sophomore and 10 pounds of physicality going into his junior year in 2017.

Gone are the days of Jones being known primarily as a blazing-fast home run hitter capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.

He’s on a different level now.

In USC’s Week 1 win over Western Michigan, Jones ran for 159 grown-man yards,122 of which came after contact to embody the philosophy preached by new running backs coach Deland McCullough.

“It accentuates physicality. It accentuates running with velocity,” McCullough said of the lessons brought over from Indiana. “It ain’t always the flash and long runs. It’s the dirty work of lowering your shoulder, running through trash, breaking arm tackles and sending a physical message to your opponent.”

Saturday at the Coliseum, Jones lived those maxims. He broke tackles, dragged defenders, continuously fell forward and still had the extra gear to turn on the jets when he needed to.

If he keeps this up, he’s going to be the Trojans’ most viable option for success at the next level since Allen.

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

He’s more dynamic than Ryan Knight, elusive than Mazio Royster, fleet of foot than Shawn Walters, nimble than Delon Washington, well-rounded than Chad Morton, everything than Petros Papadakis, instinctual than Sultan McCullough, physical than Reggie Bush, explosive than LenDale White, decisive than Joe McKnight, quicker than Allen Bradford, powerful than Curtis McNeal, durable than Silas Redd and faster than Justin Davis.

The closest stylistic comparisons are Ricky Ervins and Buck Allen, and Jones is just simply better than both right now.

“He looks like a stronger runner to me [this year],” head coach Clay Helton said. “He’s always been super fast. He’s contained that speed, but you look at the arm tackles he’s running through right now, [and] he’s a very powerful runner and I think a lot of it has to do with the strength and the work that he put in in the offseason.”

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It’s that fusion of abilities which sets Jones apart from the plethora of talented backs to wear cardinal and gold in the last few decades. And it’s why he’s put himself in the conversation to be mentioned alongside his childhood idol, Reggie Bush.

The closest stylistic comparisons are Ricky Ervins and Buck Allen, and Jones is just simply better than both right now.

Bush, whose margin of victory for his forfeited 2005 Heisman Trophy is still the largest in the history of the award, is without question both the greatest and best Trojan player in decades, if not ever.

But he was never a pure running back. Bush was never a featured back you’d be willing to ride through thick and thin, with the ability to run inside and out, both through and around defenders in any situation, on any down.

He was a lethal gamebreaker with the ball in his hands, who could beat defenders with the silkiest of strides and filthiest of cuts, regardless of where he lined up on the field. But he couldn’t wear down opponents and his success running between the tackles would’ve been drastically different without USC’s dominant offensive line in the mid-2000s.

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Bush’s 1,740 rushing yards in 2015 came while sharing the load with LenDale White, who embodied many of the qualities he didn’t have, and vice versa. Their contrasting styles and skill sets is what made their tandem use so effective. And proves why neither was a combo-back.

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White was always the more traditional running back of the two, as the powerful one.

In games the Trojans needed to wear down opponents, it was No. 21 who got the call. When USC needed two yards to seal a third-straight national championship, it was White who got the ball.

A bulky inside runner at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, the Thunder to Bush’s Lightning could pack a wallop, take a hit and keep going. His vision made up for his lack of top-flight speed.

And that top-flight speed is exactly what Ronald Jones possesses.

The Texas Tesla now simultaneously has Bush’s sense to cut, bounce and burn, with White’s ability to pound, seek and drag.

The only thing left to master? Receiving.

Luckily for Jones, having hands like Bush or Allen aren’t a prerequisite of being USC’s best pound-for-pound, pure running back in decades.