The way in which a coach utilizes the talent available on a given roster is often more important than the actual talent itself. It is clear that Aaron Jones has talent. Per Player Profiler, his college metrics and usage all jump off the page with dominator %, yards per carry and target share all at or above the 90th percentile. Unfortunately for his pocketbook, he played at a small name school (UTEP) and despite torching opposing defenses, was not drafted until the 5th round of the 2017 NFL draft. A second and third unfortunate circumstance was being drafted under Mike McCarthy and being drafted behind fellow running back Jamaal Williams, who was taken in the 4th round.
Struggling to Fit In
Despite the fact that the 2017 Green Bay Packers did not have an established running back on the roster (their incumbent RB was a converted slot receiver), Jones faced long odds to become a featured back. Montgomery proved woefully ineffective to start the season and promptly got injured. Jamaal Williams was next in line but got injured in his first start as well, opening the door for everyone to get a glimpse of Aaron Jones. Over the next 4 weeks, he flashed special ability. He received double digit carries in all 4 games while averaging a robust 5.5 yards per carry (ypc) and getting across the goal line 3 times. Incredibly, he never saw more than 5 carries in any game for the rest of his inaugural campaign before finally succumbing to an MCL injury in week 10. For their part, Montgomery and Williams toiled away for 3.7ypc on their tries during the season.
2018 was much more interesting for Jones. While he began the year with a 2 game suspension and then shared some work, after the bye he assumed starting duties. From weeks 8-14 he had 97 carries for 532 yards (5.5ypc) and 7 TDs while showing the hands he had in college, chipping in 22 catches for 165 yards and another score. Sadly, he endured another MCL injury, this time to the other knee, and missed the rest of the season.
Enter Matt LaFleur. The tendencies of the head coach are probably difficult to project since he only has one year as an NLF play caller under his belt. Of note, he did serve as offensive coordinator at Ashland University in 2007 (please inform the author of any recoverable data from this season). Thus, an analysis of how he used RBs over the last 3 offenses where he had a prominent role will be performed.
There is some notable information here that helps paint a picture. To be clear, he only called plays for Tennessee in 2018, however LaFleur presumably played a large role in designing offenses for all 3 teams. What stands out is that in each season at least one running back caught 50 passes, in two instances it was also the teams lead back, and in Tennessee is was Dion Lewis who functioned for part of the season as a feature back but ceded work in the second half to Derrick Henry. It appears clear that LaFleur and his mentors believe in getting passes to the RB.
This has not historically been the case in the frozen tundra. Only twice in the last 10 years has a RB been one of GBs top 4 receivers. In 2014, Eddie Lacy had 42 catches and in 2017 the aforementioned Jamaal Williams checked in with 25. The 2019 Packers should see a 50 catch RB for the first time in a long time and it would make sense for Aaron Jones to be the beneficiary.
Some caveats do apply, however. Jones has had back to back MCL injuries, which is concerning especially when paired with his season ending ankle injury his sophomore year at UTEP. Optimistically, injury predictor has him missing only 1.8 games in 2019, which is as good as one could hope for anyone at this volatile position. The second caveat is that it is unclear why the RB position has not been used in Green Bay over Aaron Rodgers’ tenure. Was McCarthy against it? Does Rodgers prefer wideouts and tight ends? Perhaps the Packers just didn’t have the appropriate personnel. Sadly, this is not something that can be discerned without an all access pass to the Green Bay locker room.
What to Expect
While this article has focused on Aaron Jones the receiver, his ability to run the ball should not be ignored. Going back to LaFleur’s history, his offenses have had a RB that carried the ball at least 215 times, broken 1000 yards and scored double digit TDs in each of the past 3 seasons. In total, the top 2 RBs on LaFleur offenses have had at least 342 carries. Given these numbers, 200 carries is not a lot to ask for Aaron Jones in 2019 as the presumed lead RB in this offense. That would still leave 142 carries for Jamaal Williams or rookie Dexter Williams. Aaron Jones doesn’t have to be a bellcow to return value this season.
|2019||Att||RuYds||Rec||RecYds||Total TD||2019 ADP*||Projected finish#|
*ADP taken from FantasyPros.com; #Total points taken from PPR scoring in 2018
The “high” projection is intended to be aggressive with Jones taking a clear lead role and of course assumes no injury. The “low” projection mirrors Dion Lewis’ 2018 opportunity under LaFleur with the addition of 5 TDs which seems appropriate given Jones’ knack for scoring in his first 2 seasons. Of course, TD projection is both essential for identifying a breakout and difficult to do well.
If Jones can even get the “Dion Lewis” role under LaFleur, drafters will be no worse for the wear as his ADP should match the finish. However there is a visible path to stardom where Jones makes a Mixon-type leap in year 3 and becomes a trustworthy RB1 for fantasy teams. In dynasty, the arrow is up with a coaching change supporting a reason to believe.
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