Every NFL team wants a running back that has home run ability as a rusher and reliable hands to present danger as a receiver. The Green Bay Packers, luckily, have one on their roster. Yet, for the better part of three seasons, they have chosen not to take consistent advantage.
A significant fear now is that the Packers will never employ Aaron Jones to his maximum ability while he is on the roster. Jones only has one more year under contract in Green Bay after being drafted in the fifth round in 2017 and there is a more than reasonable chance he will not be extended. Management has not shown a tendency to value the running back position as one of any premium, and even the flashes Jones has shown on the way to 14 combined touchdowns in 13 games so far in 2019 figure to generate an offer the Packers are unwilling to match.
Knowing this could be the case, why would Green Bay choose not to amplify Jones’ workload while a member of the team? From Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur, there has been a concerted effort to reduce the mileage on Jones throughout the season. Injuries, admittedly, have been a concern, and Jones does seem more primed this season to be a healthy factor down the stretch. But his workload has been curious coming off of some of his best games, dating back to his rookie year in 2017.
After Jones totaled his first 100-yard rushing game of his career against Dallas in week five that season, he took just 13 handoffs the following week. Albeit, the opponent was a stingy Minnesota defense, but Jones was a relative non-factor. The very next week, Jones once again crossed the century mark versus New Orleans before the bye and came back the following game to carry the ball just five times at home against Detroit. While injuries affected Jones for the remainder of the season, he would never carry the ball more than four times a game the rest of the way.
Moving to 2018, Green Bay was slow to commit to Jones, with the back receiving no more than 11 carries in a single game until week 8. Perhaps due to media and fan pressure, the Packers began to utilize Jones more consistently from that point on with 12-15 carries over a three-game stretch, in addition to a handful of catches out of the backfield. Suddenly, the Packers abandoned the running game in Seattle with Jones carrying just 11 times, but he did manage five receptions for 63 yards to be a weapon in other ways. The following weeks, despite seeing targets as a receiver, Jones’ carry logs would be 17, 11, 17, and 4 (influenced by injury). Despite Jones showing that he could handle more touches until his knee injury in Chicago, he rarely received those carries in back-to-back weeks.
That leads us to this very season, 2019. Even with a new head coach and playcaller, the chart below points to Jones, once again, struggling to get consistent touches in games following impressive outputs.
Aaron Jones - 2019 Touches
For example, a 27-touch, 150-yard performance in week two was followed up by 11 touches for 13 yards in week three. Another 26-touch, 182-yard day in week five was backed up with just 15 touches for 60 yards in week six. A 20-touch, 226-yard show in Kansas City resulted in just nine touches for 29 yards in Los Angeles. In fact, after seven receptions against the Chiefs, Jones had just one catch over the next three weeks.
Year after year, Jones’ usage comes under scrutiny and there has never been a clear rhyme or reason for why he cannot be a vital part of the game plan week in and week out. It was understandable as a rookie, but now in year three, one has to wonder if fans will ever get to see Jones in a season-long bellcow role. In the team’s three losses, Jones has failed to eclipse 13 carries and in only one of those games was he truly relied on in the passing game.
From the head coach to the quarterback, there needs to be an emphasis for the remainder of the season to get Jones, one of the team’s most explosive playmakers, involved - not just occasionally, but every week. Otherwise, he may leave Green Bay leaving everyone to wonder “what if” for a long time to come.