Green Bay Packers: The Time for Aaron Jones is Now

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images /

With a new coach and a new system that is expected to utilize Aaron Jones much more, a big season could be in store for the Green Bay Packers running back.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones has been one of the best running backs during his first two seasons in the NFL when he’s been on the field. His major problem though is that he hasn’t been on the field.

Between injuries and a suspension, he’s played just 24 of a possible 32 games. Fans clamored endlessly to see more of Jones when former head coach Mike McCarthy refused to ride the bell-cow, but he wasn’t healthy enough to do so.

Jones has a career average of 5.5 yards per carry that, if he had the requisite number of carries, would be the all-time leader among running backs. Jones is a great example of a one-cut runner. He moves patiently behind the line of scrimmage, and he bursts through the hole when he sees it. In a zone-blocking scheme that the Green Bay Packers deploy, that makes him a perfect fit. He just has to stay on the field to be the premier running back that he has the talent to be.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was asked about Jones after the second week of OTAs, and he said:

"“Aaron, watching him, he’s such a good slasher. With the outside-zone stuff we’re doing, it’s going to really help him and make him more effective. He’s definitely shown up and done some good things. I think this is going to be a good system for him.”"

Hackett is coming from an offensive system that loved to use the running back, and Jones will be that guy.

The area that Jones has to make the most progress is in the pass-catching department, but he can do that when called upon. He had 26 catches while averaging 7.9 yards per catch. He wasn’t used a ton in that area of the offense under McCarthy, but he will be expected to do so under Matt LaFleur.

A major aspect of the running back receiving game for the Packers has been the screen department, but they’ll be asked to do more than that under LaFleur. Jones needs to improve his route-running skills. He doesn’t need to become Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson out of the backfield, but he needs to pose a threat when they bring him out underneath. If he doesn’t, they’ll have to look for someone else to fill his role.

Jones is noticeably slimmer coming into this season, as it looks like he took the comments that Aaron Rodgers made about him last year to heart. Jones’ lighter weight will make him tougher to get ahold of by would-be tacklers. His trim size only increases his explosiveness, which makes the offense even more dynamic when he’s on the field. Just this short video against the Miami Dolphins from last year shows what he can do when he’s got room to run.

One area that Jones struggles in is his ability to outrun defenders. He doesn’t have the raw home-run speed that guys like Adrian Peterson or Alvin Kamara do, but that’s why it’s so important for him to get more carries. The more touches he has means that he has more opportunities to bust a big run to get the offense rolling. With LaFleur calling the plays, he’ll get those looks. With Rodgers under center, he’ll get some amazing looks against lighter boxes.

The Green Bay Packers offense has often gone as far as Rodgers has been able to drag them. Not since Ahman Green have they had a running back like Jones that could consistently create big plays for them. LaFleur’s offense likes to operate out of some bunch concepts to give the receivers free releases on the outside, and, with the multiple receiver sets outside, the defense can’t focus their players inside.

It will be interesting to see how LaFleur splits carries between Jones and his backfield mate Jamaal Williams. Williams is a power back that complements Jones’ explosive running style. LaFleur last year would change up his lead back on a weekly basis. If that happens too often this year with Williams winning out, fans could start to get nervous that they could be seeing a repeat of last season.

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2019 can be the year that Jones joins the ranks as one of the NFL’s top running backs. He can be mentioned in the same breath as guys like Melvin Gordon, Dalvin Cook and others that are consistently talked about as top 10 to 15 guys. He just has to stay on the field. He has no excuses at this point, and he has to make it happen this year.