With Uncertainty at WR for Packers, Look to Aaron Jones for Larger Role

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 25: Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers is introduced before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field on December 25, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 25: Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers is introduced before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field on December 25, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Without Davante Adams, there are a lot of question marks surrounding this Green Bay Packers wide receiver room—perhaps most notably, did the team do enough to address the position in the offseason?

In free agency, the Packers would sign Sammy Watkins, although injuries have plagued him throughout his career. While in the draft, Green Bay would select Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Samori Toure, with Watson and Doubs, specifically, loaded with potential. However, as Aaron Rodgers pointed out on Tuesday, potential isn’t production.

"“I like production over potential,” Rodgers said via Packers.com. “We have some production. We have a lot of potential. So we need to temper expectations and heighten the accountability. I think that’s the most important thing for those guys. There’s guys who’ve done some things in the league and there’s guys that haven’t.”"

Of course, regardless of how each of these new additions turns out, there is no replacing Adams. But this Packers offense will have to do their best to recoup as much lost production as possible—and doing so is going to take a group effort.

And when I say group effort, I don’t only mean among the receivers, but the tight end and running back positions as well–which play an important role in the passing game within Matt LaFleur’s offense.

Again, there is no one answer to this question, but Aaron Jones, who has already been a key member of the Packers’ passing attack the last few seasons, could be in store for a larger role.

Over Jones’ three seasons under LaFleur, he has flourished as a pass-catcher, averaging 65.3 targets per season with nearly 50 receptions. Jones has totaled 1,220 receiving yards during that span at 8.2 yards per catch with 11 touchdowns.

In 2021 specifically, Jones would finish third among all running backs in total receiving yards and fifth in receptions. In fact, in each of the last three seasons, Jones has finished second on the team in total targets–behind only Adams.

So naturally, in the seven games from 2019 to 2021 that the Green Bay Packers had been without Adams, Jones’ workload in the passing game has increased. During that span of games, Jones has 36 receptions on 47 targets and nearly 11.0 yards per catch with four touchdowns, according to Statmuse. This includes three games with at least 50 receiving yards and a 159-yard performance in 2019 against Kansas City.

Not that Jones is going to become a wide receiver by any means, but we do know how important it is to have Aaron Rodgers’ trust as a pass-catcher. From picking up Rodgers’ non-verbal cues, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and being in the right spot on the field–all are a part of that equation. And right now, Jones has that rapport with Rodgers, while the new receivers on this roster don’t.

Most of Jones’ production in the passing game has come out of the backfield, with just under seven percent of his snaps the last three seasons coming from the slot and 13 percent coming from out wide, according to PFF ($$). However, that could change as well with the emergence of AJ Dillon, who had 1,016 total yards in 2021 with seven touchdowns.

This is a Green Bay Packers’ offense in search of consistent playmaking ability in the passing game–again, there is potential, but not a ton of production. But two of the playmakers that we know that Green Bay does have currently are Jones and Dillon, so of course, having them on the field together — with Dillon in the backfield and Jones in the slot or out wide — would provide some added juice and unpredictability.

These two on the field together give LaFleur a wider variety of plays that he can call, and not only is it Jones and Dillon who can find success, but so can other members of this Packers’ offense, as the opposing defense has to honor what each running back can do.

In an article by Pete Dougherty of Packers News following the Packers’ blowout win against Minnesota last season in Week 16, he noted that Jones and Dillon were on the field together for seven plays that game, and as an offensive unit, Green Bay gained 52 yards and averaged an impressive 7.4 yards per play.

Under LaFleur, the Packers’ passing attack is about much more than just the receiver position. So as we look at this offense and wonder where the production will come from,
keep in mind that there isn’t one player who is going to be the answer, but also look to the tight end and running back positions for contributors—specifically Aaron Jones, who has already played a big role in the passing game these past three years.