James Deandre Jones was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the 78th overall pick in the 2007 draft, after playing his college ball at San Jose State. He immediately made an impact in his rookie year as a 3rd receiving option, catching 47 balls for 676 yards and two touchdowns. Until 2012, he had never exceeded 50 receptions or 700 receiving yards in a season.
But despite Randall Cobb's emergence as a major threat in the passing game, Jones may be the most important receiver on the Packers' roster in 2012.
Who leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2012? You might think of names like A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson, or Brandon Marshall. Jones leads them all with a staggering 12 scores on the year. The remarkable thing about Jones' scoring production is that he has scored so many times with so few passes thrown his way. Take a look at the table below to put his scoring in perspective.
You can see just how absurd Jones' touchdown production is on a per-catch and per-target basis compared to the other touchdown leaders at the top of the NFL this season. The only other player even close to him is Gronkowski, and even he falls short.
Clearly, Rodgers trusts Jones when the end zone is near. But how does that compare to other receivers who have put up high TD/reception rates in recent years? Let's now take a look at the players with the highest ratios over the past several years (minimum 7 touchdowns) and see how the distance of their scores compares to Jones':
|Player||Team||Year||TD||Rec||TD/Rec||Avg TD Distance||Under 20|
|Rob Gronkowski||NE||2010||10||42||23.8%||9.6||9 (90%)|
|James Jones||GB||2012||12||51||23.5%||14.8||9 (75%)|
|Jordy Nelson||GB||2011||15||68||22.1%||33.8||7 (47%)|
|Kenny Britt||TEN||2010||9||42||21.4%||25.2||4 (44%)|
|Dwayne Bowe||KC||2010||15||72||20.8%||25.8||7 (47%)|
|Santana Moss||WAS||2012||7||34||20.6%||29.3||3 (43%)|
|Laurent Robinson||DAL||2011||11||54||20.4%||20.6||8 (73%)|
|Antonio Gates||SD||2010||10||50||20.0%||16.2||7 (70%)|
|Robert Meachem||NO||2009||9||45||20.0%||31.9||2 (22%)|
What this table shows is that among the top touchdown producers of the past few years, Jones is doing far more of his work in the red zone than his fellow wide receivers. In fact, he is averaging a touchdown distance at least five yards shorter than any other wideout. In contrast, Jordy Nelson's numbers from 2011 indicate that he caught a lot of really long passes to go along with his red zone scores. Jones' numbers this year are more in line with the tight ends on this list, Gronkowski and Gates in that they're major red zone targets. He's also one of only two wideouts on that list (Robinson) to have more than half his touchdowns come from inside of 20 yards.
The main takeaway from all these numbers is this: Aaron Rodgers trusts James Jones near the goal line. Perhaps it is Jones' improvement in avoiding drops that has helped him become a critical red zone target, or perhaps it is his steadiness while other receivers missed time with injuries. What is clear is that even though Randall Cobb gets more passes thrown his way in the middle of the field, Jones is the man who Rodgers turns to in order to close the deal and put six points on the board. That makes a strong case for Jones potentially being the most important receiver on Green Bay's roster.
(Note: all statistics courtesy of ESPN.com)