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In the year of the rookie running back, the Packers’ Aaron Jones may be the next star

The Packers’ fifth round pick is beginning to emerge in the backfield after the injury to Ty Montgomery.

Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Through five weeks of the NFL season, rookie running back Kareem Hunt has stolen league and fantasy football headlines.

Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs’ newest phenom, was pick 86 in the 2017 NFL Draft but has become an early MVP candidate. A third rounder, he was not the expected break out first-year performer in a class that featured the likes of Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook. Yet, Hunt is darn near the top of the charts in fantasy leagues and has proven to be a threat both in the rushing and passing game for the undefeated Chiefs. That’s not too bad for a Kansas City team that let former All-Pro Jamaal Charles walk in free agency and lost its projected starter Spencer Ware to injury in preseason.

But Hunt hasn’t been the only rookie to make early contributions to his team. In a late September article, Danny Kelly of The Ringer detailed the evolution of the NFL running back as becoming much more a position of youth. Kelly pointed out that in just two weeks, six rookie backs had carried the ball 20-plus times in comparison to only one, Ezekiel Elliott, last season. It’s been nearly ten years since rookie running backs have been this involved in their teams’ offenses. Here is a brief look at those early leaders in the class.

2017 NFL Rookie Running Backs

Name Team Draft Round Carries Rush Yds Catches Rec Yds Total TDs
Name Team Draft Round Carries Rush Yds Catches Rec Yds Total TDs
Leonard Fournette Jacksonville 1 (4) 109 466 13 128 6
Christian McCaffrey Carolina 1 (8) 34 96 27 237 1
Dalvin Cook (IR) Minnesota 2 (41) 74 354 11 90 2
Joe Mixon Cincinnati 2 (48) 67 187 11 78 1
Alvin Kamara New Orleans 3 (67) 15 83 20 147 2
Kareem Hunt Kansas City 3 (86) 97 609 16 166 6
D'Onta Foreman Houston 3 (89) 38 148 3 68 0
Samaje Perine Washington 4 (114) 46 143 2 6 0
Tarik Cohen Chicago 4 (119) 30 181 24 150 1
Chris Carson (IR) Seattle 7 (249) 49 208 7 59 1

After Sunday’s 35-31 win against the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers may have a rookie running back playmaker of their own beginning to emerge.

In limited action between the preseason and regular season, fifth rounder Aaron Jones has shown to be more NFL-ready than fellow rookies Jamaal Williams, picked one round ahead of Jones, and seventh round selection Devante Mays. Rumbling for 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and catching a pass for nine yards versus Dallas, Jones established himself as a legitimate dual-threat option for Green Bay.

Coming out of UTEP, Jones was viewed as a rusher with extraordinary hands out of the backfield and appeared to be, at the very least, a serviceable third down back for Green Bay. A nifty first down sideline grab on the Packers’ late second quarter drive against the Cowboys proved Jones’ reliable hands, but it was his vision that really stood out. What Jones showed on Sunday was his ability to be a one-cut runner in between the tackles in addition to having the burst to get to the outside - characteristics that allowed him to break off 22 and 15-yard runs in the second half. He certainly built upon his 13 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown last week against Chicago and doesn’t appear to be a short-term wonder.

With broken ribs, starting running back Ty Montgomery’s return date is in question. But when he doescome back, it will certainly be interesting to see how the carries will be split. While Montgomery has picked up 7.2 yards per reception this season, he has rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Jones’ 100-plus yard performance in Sunday’s game marked just the second time since September 25 of last season that an individual Green Bay player eclipsed the century mark. Montgomery’s 162-yard performance against Chicago remains the only contest in which he has rushed for more than 60 yards in his roughly 14-game running back career, although his number of carries per game have not been exceptionally high.

While Williams saw many more snaps in the early going of the season, presumably for his pass-blocking skills, it is Jones who is becoming the more effective first-year player when thrust into action with injuries. Jones’ patience as a runner is higher than that of Williams and his ability to churn out yards through arm tackles in the running game is a dimension that takes the pressure off Aaron Rodgers and allows for a relatively balanced game plan. Remember, this is all coming behind a patchwork offensive line.

Aaron Jones appears to be the next significant running back contributor in the 2017 draft class. He was effective Sunday and his production should be sustainable as the Packers head into an important stretch against NFC competition. While Montgomery surely will continue to be utilized heavily, assistance from a new A-Train will be a crucial benefit for the offense moving forward.