For years, James Jones was known as a talented but frustrating third or fourth wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers.
There were always glimpses that he could be starting material, maybe even a No. 1 wide receiver for another NFL team where there wouldn’t be a Greg Jennings or a Donald Driver ahead of him.
Jones had an impressive rookie season catching passes from Brett Favre back in 2007, suggesting bigger things were to come. With 47 receptions for 676 yards, Jones appeared to be on the precipice of stardom if he could just build off the success of his first year as a professional.
But the inconsistency bordered on maddening. Who could forget the fumble along the sideline in the fourth quarter of a tie game with the Packers driving into the opponent’s territory at Chicago of 2010, a fumble that led to a Packers loss?
And then there were the drops. For each year from 2009 to 2011 Jones had a drop rate over 10 percent, including an unsightly 20.51 percent in ’09, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Jones never really exceeded the expectations set during his rookie season. There might have been a few more touchdowns, but the number and receptions and yardage gained were always roughly the same.
Now, in his sixth year in the NFL, it appears Jones might finally be emerging as a true top-flight wide receiver in the NFL.
Building off his seven touchdown receptions last season as part of a Packers offense that was one of the best in league history, Jones is off to the best start of his career. He leads the Packers with five touchdowns when no one else on the team has more than one. Those five scoring receptions are tied for the most in the NFL along with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.
Jones is taking his accomplishments in stride, knowing that despite his high level of production, the Packers still only have a 2-3 record.
“It really don’t mean nothing if you’re losing,” Jones told reporters this past week. “If you go out there and have a good game and you look up at the end and your team lost, you didn’t help your team win.
“It’s not about stats, it’s not about how many balls I catch, how many touchdowns I can make; it’s about winning and winning Super Bowls.”
Last week at Indianapolis marked the second consecutive game Jones had two touchdowns.
Dating back to last year, Jones is the only player in the NFL with three two-touchdown performances over the last seven regular-season contests. His seven TDs during that span is tied for No. 1 in the NFL with Cruz, Julio Jones of the Falcons and Marques Colston of the Saints.
And despite playing second fiddle to Jennings, Driver and Jordy Nelson, Jones is actually the first Packers wide receiver to have five-plus touchdown receptions in each of the past four seasons since Antonio Freeman had at least five touchdown catches for six straight seasons from 1996 to 2001.
It’s that type of production that has led some fans to suggest that the Packers should trade Jones, even though he was an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2011 season and didn’t garner any attention outside of the Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers, however, are happy to have Jones and what he brings to the table. The question is whether he can maintain this same pace, this level of achievement for the rest of this season and even beyond.
Certainly there’s an opportunity with Jennings beset by injuries and Driver being relegated to spot duty. Even so, Nelson has become a top target of Rodgers and Randall Cobb is taking on a more prominent role in the offense with every passing week.
That’s where Jones sits entering this weekend’s game against the undefeated Houston Texans, an opportunity for the Packers to play a good opponent and get their season back on track.
“We just need to play good, man,” said Jones. “I really don’t want to sit here and say we need to go out there and it’s a must win. We just need to go out there and play well and stack success and go into the next game and play well.
“We’ve got too many ups and downs right now where at times we play well and then we’re inconsistent. We just need to go out there and play a complete game and look up at the scoreboard when it’s all said and done.”