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Jones, Packers' redesigned offense projecting to be a perfect match in 2019

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Jones, Packers' redesigned offense projecting to be a perfect match in 2019

-- Some of the evaluations of NFL players bank on pure projection when they aren't able to stay healthy. Rightfully so, considering it's impossible to truly assess skill when someone has battled injury and can't stay on the field.

Other players fight through injury and never reach their full potential early in their careers because, well, they're injured.

Then there's the rare few who fight through injury, just like the aforementioned category, and have still showcased game-changing ability where the sky is the limit as far as their projection goes.

Aaron Jones is one of those players.

The Green Bay Packers' premier running back is entering his third season in the league and has gradually wedged his way into any conversations involving some of the best at his position. That's even despite staring into the face(s) of adversity in each of his first two years.

Jones suffered MCL sprains in each of his knees during his rookie season -- a campaign that first put him on the map with two games in three weeks that saw him rush for over 120 yards in each -- and had his workload decreased tenfold during the latter stages of the season.

Starting in November and running through December, Jones saw just 19 carries; 19 carries through six games after registering 17 for 131 yards against the New Orleans Saints and 19 for 125 against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks prior.

Jones missed the first two games of the 2018 season due to suspension and was slowly but surely eased back into the Packers' lineup. After being sidelined for most of the team's training camp regimen that summer with a hamstring injury, he suffered a third MCL sprain -- the second in his right knee -- against the Chicago Bears in December.

Even when Jones was healthy and running wild, something other than a nagging MCL sprain and dreaded suspension was weighing him down: usage.

The Packers hired Matt LaFleur as their new head coach in January, but for two seasons, Jones' activity during games has always remained as a topic of conversation amongst fans chomping at the bit to see him in action. A large part of that was the way he was utilized by LaFleur's predecessor, Mike McCarthy.

To McCarthy's credit, the Packers had a promising tandem of ballcarriers between Jones and Jamaal Williams, another member of their 2017 draft class, and much of their work came in situational spurts. But during McCarthy's tenure, Jones and Williams split drives, alternating each time the Packers were on offense -- it didn't matter if Jones was gaining steam during his time on the field.

Undeterred by all of these factors that would hinder any tailback's performance, no player in the league with at least 100 carries has averaged more yards per carry than Jones in each of the last two seasons combined. His number of 5.5 ranks ahead of the Detroit Lions' Kerryon Johnson (5.4), the Denver Broncos' Phillip Lindsay (5.4) and the Los Angeles Chargers' Austin Ekeler (5.3).

Somehow, regardless of any statistic thrown in your face, highlight compilation or film thread on Twitter, Jones' arrow is trending upward even more so.

That's almost entirely a result of hiring LaFleur.

Whether he was the offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams or the Tennesee Titans, LaFleur's offense is built on the foundation of play-action and a zone-blocking scheme -- both of which are a dream for a dynamic threat like Jones.

Jones will have more opportunities to not only run the ball but play a featured role in the Packers' passing attack as well. That's not only as a receiving option out of the backfield or as someone that's shifted out wide pre-snap, but his ability to withstand in pass protection has ascended at an impressive rate throughout his career.

It was those improvements as a pass-protector that helped him fully secure the starting job in the backfield by mid-season in 2018. Of course, in an offense built around a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers -- the hallowed cornerstone of your franchise -- keeping him vertical is vital. Especially when that quarterback is dealing with his own knee injury stemming from the season-opener.

That foregoing receiving ability hasn't been anything to write home about -- but that's only because the sample size has been so scarce. He saw just 17 targets -- hauling in nine of them -- in his rookie year, but something finally began to click in the gameplan when Jones became more of a factor as a receiving threat in 2018, seeing 27 targets in just the seven final games of the season in which he was active for alone.

As is the case with any player, Jones' biggest obstacle is remaining upright and available. If anything, he's shown that when he is, he's one of the most dangerous players in the Packers' offensive arsenal. 

__________________________

Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (22) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

He will be one of the most dangerous players in the Packers arsenal. But he also will be in a full-blown timeshare. Look at the Shanahan tree offense historically over the past 20 years. Do you see many bell cow backs? Me neither. Clinton Portis...and???

MLF has also said that it will be a timeshare. I won't be drafting Jones in any FF league this year. If he gets 15 touches a game, I'll be shocked.

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TheVOR's picture

I hated when Mike McCarthy "Split Drives". I never liked that. Look, if you want them to split time and touches, so be it, but don't remove a hot hand for "drives"? Rotate these guys in and out of drives, utilize them and rotate them in and out as required, and call plays during the drives that best utilize their individual strengths.

The argument is obviously "what about the hot hand", if Jones is killing someone on a drive, or Williams, or whomever, still rotate a guy in for a breather play, or whatever, but rotate these guys during drives. Don't eliminate the hot hand by rotating players out for drives, utilize their strengths by rotating them in and out of individual drives.

Coach JV's picture

Much is made about Jones' availability... particularly in 2018, and I have heard a lot of people questioning his durability... but most don't truly understand.

In 2018, Jones missed the first two games due to a suspension, not injury. The last 2 games, he did have a sprained MCL... key word "sprain". He said himself that if the Pack had been in a run for the playoffs, he could have still played on his knees.

It was the same the year before after Hundley failed to get us to a playoff run, they sat Jones. Again they were sprains... not tears. MM had said that he could have played if needed.

I believe he is gonna shut some mouths this year... and make others drop open with 1800 APY this season.

ricky's picture

This is the time to be optimistic. But repeated "sprains" are still injuries. And "being able to play" and "being able to play at the highest level" are not the same. Jones is only about 5'11" and 208 pounds. Is he big enough to take the constant pounding? Apparently not. He, like Bulaga, are in the "when healthy" category. In short, could he take the brutality of having about 15-20 touches a game for an entire season (including playoffs)? We have yet to see him achieve that goal. Until he does, he will be that player who we always hope will break out, but never does because of those pesky "nagging injuries."

Lare's picture

Jones was injured one year in college (ankle) and both years in the pros (knees). He has all the talent in the world but as always, the issue is staying healthy and on the field. Hopefully he has a healthy and productive year, but if I had to bet I'd say we'll see a lot of the Williamses this season.

fthisJack's picture

supposedly he pumped up in the offseason. built up his lower body so he may be able to avoid the MCL sprains.

Handsback's picture

My take is this....Jones is a very good back. He varies from a little to a lot on the fragile side. Do you think they will make him a cowbell RB? I don't, but he'll be a great change of pace back. I wrote this on another site, so I'll add it here. I looked at some of rookie William's film from ND. I'm making a prediction that by the end of the season...he will be the starting RB. I like his speed, balance, and power through the hole. The one position where a rookie can come in and start immediately is RB. I did some more digging and the one back that showed the same quickness and power to perform one cut and hit the hole was Terrell Davis of the Broncos. They also were very similar in size as well.
Will Williams be as good as Davis? That would require a dedication that I don't know if he's willing to do. But he has the same skill sets and in the new offense, it's tailor-made for his ability.
This doesn't mean I don't like Jones or the other Williams....I just happen to think the rookie is something special. A person with a certain set of skills that gets drafted by a team that dictates those skills in their offense.

Bryan Chisholm's picture

Well, he couldn't be underutilized anymore than he was outside of benching him lol.. seems like any offense other would be better for him

porupack's picture

Thanks for feeding us hope, Z;

On the side of caution re Jones;
- Split duties w Williams & Williams.
- Injury and availability
- Limited sample size (some of the best stats are players with limited sample size; can those stats stay with more workload?)
- Labels and perceptions; He's too small, or fragile, or perceived as a 'scatback' (why-ever that silly perceptions get so much credence and life). Or the team needs a "bell cow", or "cow bell", and Jones isn't ringing the bells in some fans heads.

On the side of optimism;
- injuries were minor, and as much related to playoff prospects, and caution.
- highlights and some impressive tape, notable stats cited by Z.
- New regime, fresh reassessment of team talent, and redesign as mentioned by Z. And in particular, a design that uses Jones as blocker and receiver.
- Apparent work ethic, and improved skills (as receiver and blocker).

Forget silly ideas of scatbacks and bellcows. We have a new coach and can extract his philosophies as Z did. There is demonstrated pro talent from stats mentioned above, though I don't think all of his past stats will be sustained, but it indicates enough talent.

The verdict; Optimism wins over pessimism. Jones will be a bigger part of the offense. Maybe more bigger.

egbertsouse's picture

I have a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell .

oceanstrength's picture

Sorry, way too much hype over a guy who has NOT shown he can stay healthy. By season end you will see Dexter Williams and Danny Vitale trying to keep the new system afloat. This is a plug and play league. There is no 'staying healthy" any more, only depth and the coaching to plug that depth in for injured starters. On paper, every team looks good with 22 projected starters. By season end. half will be sitting.

Savage57's picture

Jones is the back the Packers need to start the game. Play to his strengths with the intent to get him into space, whether handing him the ball or throwing it to him.

Then, after defenses are softened up a little bit and expecting to chase, bring in Williams to pound on them.

SmallmouthBass's picture

From my observation, he is certainly most effective in the open field when he has space to work around. AJ has shown us to be super agile with some top end speed when his knees are healthy . Any quick passes to him on the outside or sideline where he keeps his momentum moving, makes me giddy! That dude looks so smooth shedding weak tackles and a juking out corners. I'd love more quick passes to him on first and second down. I also believe he makes noticeable improvements this season (couple more moves in his bag of tricks).

ReaganRulz's picture

It will be interesting to see how the offseason changes that AJones made will effect his health and durability. Less body fat and more muscle sound good, but I’m not really sure what the historical facts are for running backs that have done this.

But I totally agree with you guys that this may be a committee situation with an obvious upside for AJones.

Nick Perry's picture

I'm just stoked as hell we have a HC who actually WANTS to use Aaron Jones. I'm also stoked as hell about Dexter Williams like a lot of my fellow fans. To top it off, the ZB scheme is tailor-made for a RB like Jammal Williams. Suddenly the Packers have a nice variety, a nice blend in the RB room.

Oppy's picture

Imagine if the Packers had A QB who actually WANTS to use RBs to run the ball.

Johnblood27's picture

or a QB who actually threw the ball to a RB...

cheesehead1's picture

He’s a good back but so far in his short career staying healthy is a big concern. Wishing him and the rest of the Packers a relatively healthy season.

Since '61's picture

We need to think of utilizing Jones' skills in terms of hits per game. Assume he gets 15 touches per game. That will probably equate to about 25 - 35 hits per game not counting the plays when he is pass blocking for Aaron Rodgers, maybe 10 - 15 plays per game.

Average out to 30 hits per game which is probably very conservative, that equates to 480 hits over the course of 16 regular season games. Can Jones hold up? I expect the Packers to give Jones 12 - 20 touches per game. The Williams RBs will likely get another 15 between them. But much depends on the opponent's defense and the score, time remaining and field position. If the Packers are playing with a lead expect one of the Williams to get more snaps in an effort to run out the clock.

Jones should be utilized to wear out the defense. Williams to pound the weary defenders.

If Jones can stay on the field the Packers should take advantage. of his skills but I believe it will be RB by committee for at least the first half of the season. Then we will see who MLF believes should the primary RB if any. The status of the OL will be a factor in all of this as well. Thanks, Since '61

Nononsense's picture

Of his 3 MCL injuries, 2 of them happened at Soldier Field. So are his injuries the result of hits or shitty playing surfaces? I dont know the answer to that but if I'm calling the plays week 1, I'm splitting carries and touches pretty evenly between the backs. Dont want to get him busted up the first game.

Let Jones loose in week 2 against the Queens. As long as he gets between 15 and 20 touches a game after week 1 he should produce about 1500 yrds combined rushing and receiving for the year.

Johnblood27's picture

If the NFL season is a war of attrition and it pays to be playing your best at the end of the season, a healthy dose of "committee" should be exercised from the first snap of the first game.

Statistics mean NOTHING!

Drop the fantasy mindset and think FOOTBALL!

Having plays that all 3 backs can run effectively will make the committee approach UNPREDICTABLE, unlike MMs constant package changes which signaled to the defense exactly which plays were to be run.

It does not matter one little bit which back gets the touches throughout the regular season. The most effective back throughout the regular season should see more touches in the playoffs, where it MATTERS.

Yeah, you have to get there, I get it, but if playing one guy for 16 games is the only way for your team to get there, guess what? It aint happening in todays league!

Rosters are too thin and players are too fragile for that kind of hope and prayer. That is the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" mindset of offseason lamenting the "injury bug". Injuries are going to happen, spread the playing time as much as possible, keep players fresh across the entire roster and hope that this approach leaves your best standing at the right times.

I love what AJ brings to the offense, however I also like Jamal's attitude, versatility and power. I have hope for ND Williams as well, I hope he can integrate into the offense and shoulder ~25% of the snaps.

Jones can be a star, but he will not be an every down 60 minute guy. He doesn't need to be in todays NFL and if he is placed in that role it only hurts the team in the long run since he will be unavailable late in the season when he is needed the most.

It is a TEAM game over and above the 22 starters.

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