Can Aaron Jones Break Out As A Receiving Threat?

Aaron Jones had a nice year as a receiver with 474 yards and a healthy 9.67 yard average per reception.  His yards per target average was 6.97, which is also pretty good.  For comparison, Christian McCaffrey averaged 8.7 yards per reception and 7.1 yards per target.  The big difference was volume: McCaffrey saw 142 targets and caught 116 passes.  Defenses knew Carolina was going to throw a lot to McCaffrey going into each game.  Austin Ekeler probably had an even better year as a receiving back.  He broke out as a receiver with 92 receptions on 108 targets (85.2%) for 993 yards and a whopping 10.8 yards per reception and an enormous 9.2 yards per target.  The latter number is excellent for a wide receiver.

For additional context, running backs known for their receiving skills tend to average over 8 yards per reception and 6.5 yards per target for their careers.  For example: James White (8.8/6.5 - 36 yards/game); Alvin Kamara (8.5/6.8 - 46.0/game); LeVeon Bell (8.3/6.5 - 40.5/game); Dalvin Cook (8.8/7.1 - 31.5); Dion Lewis 7.4/ 6.1 - 14.9).  Aaron Jones averaged 29.6 receiving yards in 2019, his career high.

Looking at some splits for Jones' statistics, some interesting patterns emerged.  Below is a table organizing those splits.  Note that Davante Adams missed games 5-8.

Aaron Jones:

Games Targets Recs % Yds Yds/tar Yds/rec TDs
1-4 15 12 80.0 75 5.0 6.25 0
5-8 27 22 81.5 280 10.37 12.73 3
9-12 10 5 50.0 12 1.20 2.4 0
13-16 16 10 62.5 107 6.69 10.7 0
               
W Adams 41 27 65.85 194 4.73 7.19 0
w/o Adams 27 22 81.5 280 10.37 12.73 3
               
Season 68 49 72.1 474 6.97 9.67 3
Playoffs 7 6 85.7 31 4.43 5.17 1

 

Jones' gross production and efficiency skyrocketed in the absence of Davante Adams.  His 280 receiving yards in that 25% of the season constituted 59.1% of his overall gross production and all three of his receiving touchdowns.  His gross production (26.75 receiving yards per game) and efficiency rebounded in the last quarter of the season to number roughly equal with his season long averages.

As a control of sorts, I looked at Jamaal Williams' receiving statistics.  His gross production jumped from 16.45 yards per game with Adams playing to 24 yards per game without Adams (Williams played one snap in game 4 with Adams and missed game 5 so he played just three games during Adams' absence).  However, his efficiency numbers did not budge.  He scored a receiving touchdown once every three games with and without Adams in the lineup.  Williams was pretty consistent in that he only had three games in which he produced 7 or fewer receiving yards.  Those games were against Carolina, Washington, and the second Chicago game.

Jamaal Williams

Games Targets Recs % Yds /target /Rec TDs
W Adams 32 28 87.50 181 5.66 6.46 1
w/o Adams 13 11 84.61 72 5.53 6.55 4
Season 45 39 86.67 253 5.62 6.49 5

Aaron Jones was much more inconsistent than Jamaal Williams.  Jones had seven games in which he produced less than 7 receiving yards, including five with zero or fewer receiving yards.  Those games occurred against Chicago (0 for both games), Denver, the Chargers, Carolina, San Francisco, and the second Minnesota game.  I cannot help but notice that those seven games came against teams with good overall defenses except for Carolina, which did rank 13th best for passing yards allowed.  Jones had a total of 9 receiving yards in those seven games. 

At some point in the season, perhaps after the Kansas City game week 8 during which Jones had 159 receiving yards, teams learned not to try to cover Jones with a linebacker.  Still, Jones had a nice last quarter of the season with 107 yards in four games.  That same dichotomy reared its head again:  Jones had just 6 receiving yards in two of those last four games (against Minnesota and Chicago, teams with good defenses) and big days against Detroit and Washington, teams with weaker overall defenses. 

Jamaal Williams gained first downs on 16 of his 39 receptions (41%) and had a long receiving gain of 17 yards.  Jones gained first downs on 18 of his 49 receptions (36.7%) and had a long of 67 yards.  Here are the numbers for other receiving backs: James White (31 - 43%, long 59);  Kamara (28 -  34.6%, long 40); Ekeler 42 - 45.6%, long 84); Bell (144 career, 38.1%, long 48); Dalvin Cook (26 - 49.1%, long 31; and McCaffrey (58 - 50%, long 28).  I find it interesting that McCaffrey's longest reception in three seasons and 303 receptions went for 38 yards and Cook has a career long of 36 yards.    

I do not see any interesting patterns in Jones' advanced statistics.  The average pass to him traveled 0.8 yards downfield (41 yards on 49 receptions) and Jones gained 433 of his 474 yards after the catch.  Those numbers are consistent with the numbers put up by LeVeon Bell, Kamara, White, and McCaffrey.  Jones did break 10 tackles (1 broken tackle for every 4.9 receptions, which is good).  He also improved his hands.  Jones dropped just 2 passes for a 3.9% drop rate, which is much better than the 13.33% drop rate he posted in 2018.

Many fans of the Packers are trying to envision how Coach LaFleuer's offense will function in year two, especially with the additions of Deguara and Dillon.  The Packers did well with Jones and Williams on the field at the same time, and I wonder if Jones and Dillon might be even more dynamic. 

Aaron Jones did more than flash as a receiving threat in 2019, finishing 8th in total receiving yards by a running back.  Can Jones be more consistent in 2020 as a receiving threat, adding that component to the offense, even making it a staple of the offense?  Are the seven games in which Jones had 7 or fewer receiving yards a function of matchups, playcalling or the game plan for those particular opponents?  If Jones is capable of being a consistent receiving threat out of the backfield, is that his best use in general and in LaFleuer's offense in particular?  Can Jones shift to the slot on occasion effectively?

The 2020 Packers season shapes up to be one of the more interesting seasons in recent memory.

 

   

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Comments (18)

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 26, 2020 at 04:04 am

I had to look at a lot of photos before I found one of Jones catching a pass. Perhaps I am naive about these things, but he did catch 49 passes including three TDs.

I do wonder if Jones will have more or fewer receiving yards in 2020 than he did in 2019, and if his efficiency stats will hold up.

It is unsurprising that both Jones' and Jamaal's gross production would increase in the absence of Davante Adams, since they both should move up the pecking order in terms of options. I do wonder why Jamaal's efficiency numbers didn't budge. It could be down and distance usage, what he is asked to do on any given play. I noticed that Jones is not asked to chip and then release into his route fairly often.

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Coldworld's picture

May 26, 2020 at 09:30 am

Williams is a natural catcher. I think you will see him and Jones together as well, and possibly Williams and Dillon. I think the key for Jones is giving teams pause about going light. If we can keep teams playing the center with trad ILBs then I think he will do well. If Deguara can run up the gut effectively then even more permutations are possible. Ervin could also factor at times. I think the key is to maximize the big play potential from Jones.

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packerbackerjim's picture

May 26, 2020 at 05:22 am

I’m eager to see Jones utilized in a more creative offense in MLF 2.0. I think the pairing of Jones and Deguara will give defenses a real challenge. Great article and analysis.

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nostradanus's picture

May 26, 2020 at 08:07 am

Jones is so dynamic with the ball in his hands and he needs to be used more like the Saints use Alvin Kamara, create ways to get him in mismatches.If you go back and watch the Packer games from last year Jones was terrific catching passes out of the backfield. MLF also found creative ways to use Tyler Ervin on jet sweeps and push passes.

In my opinion Jones was miss-used late and games when the Packers were trying to milk the clock, it was run the ball into a stacked defense two or three times and punt. This put undue wear and tear on the smallish Jones and hopefully with the drafting of Dylan it will take some of that burden off him.

Dylan and J. Williams should be late game punishers and take some of the reps off of Jones. They have the build to run through some of those tackles and keep the clock rolling.

This will keep Jones fresh throughout the season and enhance his big play abilities as lightning (Jones and Ervin)and thunder (Dylan & Williams) roll into the playoffs!

Go Pack!

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stockholder's picture

May 26, 2020 at 08:34 am

I think Jones is a great player when healthy. A late round Gem! Yes he can do anything he wants. Glad he's with the Packers!

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Spock's picture

May 26, 2020 at 09:00 am

"Can Aaron Jones Break Out As A Receiving Threat?" I'd argue that, just from watching him play, he already IS a receiving threat that the other teams have to account for on defense.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 26, 2020 at 04:25 pm

Yes, he is already a receiving threat. He had the 8th most receiving yards as an RB. Should there be any evolution to his usage?

Tier 1: 1005 McCaffrey and 993 Ekeler

Tier 2: 645 James White (751 in '18 ; 533 Kamara (700+/800+ previously);

Tier 3: 522 Fournette, 519 Cook; 509 Miles Sanders; Jones 474; 461 Bell 10. 456 Cohen, , and 410+ includes Barkeley, Freemon, and Duke Johnson.

I was wondering if it would be worth it to push Jones into the tier 2 type of RBs. For this exercise, I am assuming that Dillon is going to be good right away, including running between the tackles and getting to and turning the edge.

I can envision a lot of formations and attendant personnel packages that the team could run or pass out of.

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gkarl's picture

May 26, 2020 at 09:50 am

I think Jones is quite a capable pass catcher. IMO I think we'll see somewhere between LY's production and the Ekeler 2019 numbers. The key is getting Jones more regular opportunities beyond the LOS, that's where he can cause real damage.

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CheesyTex's picture

May 26, 2020 at 10:01 am

Absolutely he can break out (more) as a receiving threat.

Think: Second year in MLF system; fit of new players (Dillon, Deguara) to create the "illusion of complexity"; and Williams and Dillon to take the short yardage pounding off Jones relatively small body.

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Since'61's picture

May 26, 2020 at 10:12 am

TGR good article as usual. The Packers need to get the ball to Jones in space more often. Without the addition of an impact WR during the offseason Jones may be the best receiving option after Adams.

The problem is that opposing defenses know this and they cover Jones with a DB rather than with an LB which would be preferred. Another serious WR threat paired with Adams would give Jones more opportunities for mismatches coming out of the backfield especially on early downs with play action.

One option could be to pair Jones with Ervin in the backfield. Both can be effective receivers out of the backfield and we should be able to get a favorable matchup with that approach. In any case Jones in space is the best way for him to be effective. Stay well. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Brandip's picture

May 26, 2020 at 10:39 am

I think Jones has improved tremendously from his rookie season. I do not think he has reached his full potential yet. It is refreshing to see a player being targeted in the passing game that does not fit the "mold" of a typical Packers receiver. Let's hope he stays healthy and continues to develop. Jones' role in the offense is not easily replaceable.

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PhantomII's picture

May 26, 2020 at 12:44 pm

A.Jones is quick and has great vision. Anytime a guy like that has the ball in his hands he is elusive and a big play threat. As far as I'm concerned he is the #2 receiver if ML draws it up that way. Reason: A.J's don't come around very often and his career would have more longevity if he was moved around more. We now have more RB options in play and no sense not being creative with guys like him and our new punt returners skillset. It will be interesting what the Jones to Dillon Ratio will be. Overall I'm warming to some of Gutes picks.
I think We'll be in pound the rock/surgical cuts to opposing teams with these guys. A lot of weapons when laid out, each one a different way to hurt you. Hopefully ML is really creative with his expanded set of weapons and gets them all doing their damage to their strengths.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 26, 2020 at 01:07 pm

Jones and Williams were both good picks on the last day. Jones had some injury issues his first two and Williams missed a game this year but they’ve been available. They’re cheap, both on the rookie contract. They don’t fumble much. Williams is especially careful with the ball and along with Rodgers we have an edge in the turnover battle.

I think you’ll see Jones as more of a receiver/jet sweep guy than between the tackles. My expectation is that Dillon is going to force the Packers to play him. But you want Jones on the field in the red zone because he’s so good at finding the end zone. It’s a tough problem for the offense.

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PhantomII's picture

May 26, 2020 at 03:13 pm

As far as I'm concerned they can rotate 2-RB's on the field nearly every play. Throw in a halfback pass option and get good at that and it will catch the other team with their drawers down every time. Jones-Dillon, Ervin-Williams, which ever way you mix it the more the Defense has to cover or stop the better. Hoping for a non loaded box and just dial up plays and exploit them. If D. Williams gets it together it would get more interesting. I look at RB's like a Baseball outfield, I'd like to have 3-Center fielders. The more RB's on the field the better. Quick, vision, elusive, blocking, catching, running, tough, attitude.

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Handsback's picture

May 26, 2020 at 07:42 pm

I would think Jones puts the defense under more pressure when he's used as a receiver. Sure put that DB on Jones and watch one of the WRs get single coverage and there's your first down. Next year with it being 3rd and 3, will the Packers split out Jones and do one of the following:
Pass over the middle w/ LB on Jones
Dillon run off-tackle
Jones in motion for trap play in middle
Jones in motion catches swing pass
Jones with slant pattern
Fake pass to Jones, Dillon up the middle
Of course the jet-sweep
Half of the options will be running plays and have to defend Dillon and Jones if both are on the field. This says nothing about the other TE/WRs that could be targets.
So yeah, I think Jones has arrived as a pass catcher. Now the Pack has to use him.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 26, 2020 at 09:12 pm

Jones is quick and has a nose for the goal line. You definitely want him on the field then, probably as a slot or in motion.

I think Dillon over the right side for 5 yards is going to be something we’ll see a lot of. And Jones could very well be one of our top receivers and total yardage leaders. He was 12th among RBs in receptions last year, and just giving him a few more “long handoffs” per game would put him in right up there with Kamara.. It would put him at around 80 receptions, which would probably make him our #2 receiver over the season.

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Bure9620's picture

May 27, 2020 at 04:12 am

I can see Jones motioning out to the slot if they see a matchup they want to exploit, if you can get Jones on a LB or Safety that way, you do it. This is where he will be most effective in the passing game as a WR. I still like him best on quick swing routes where he can gain the edge. You run him to the weak side of the formation or to Adams side as teams want to bracket Adams with a safety.

I would love to see a 12 personnel formation with Lazard and Funchess just throwing crack blocks on small corners and we run outside with Jones or Ervin.....

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Leatherhead's picture

May 28, 2020 at 10:23 am

Not only does it encourage defenses to cover him with a DB, it means one less run defender on the field ....and they’re going to want run defenders. We’re going to put six beefy blockers in front of a 250 lb. meat hammer.

Tremendous potential for us to have a “thunder and lightning “ RB tandem like you rarely see anymore. I think it puts a lot more pressure on the defense because they have different styles. I think it’s going to be especially difficult for their second and third corners because they’re going to be outsized. And of course, you can’t double Adams all the time either so there’s that.

Here is my prediction for our opener against the Vikings: We’re going to run over a much smaller Viking defense.

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