Saints RB Alvin Kamara Shows How the Packers Should Use Aaron Jones
Virtually everyone with any kind of opinion on the Packers agrees on one thing: Aaron Jones needs the ball more.
His Week 3 debut was preposterously limited and even though he had more snaps and touched the ball more than any other Packers back, his Week 4 role still seemed like it wasn’t enough.
So how much should the Packers use Aaron Jones? “More” is the easy answer, but deciding exactly how much more is a complicated consideration.
At 5-9 and a shade over 200 pounds, Jones isn’t a big back and already showed a moderate propensity towards wear and tear last year. To that end, the Packers also have to be mindful of keeping their best players fresh for the stretch run and (hopefully) a deep playoff push.
Fortunately for the Packers, there’s an archetype to follow in their own conference. The New Orleans Saints have a very similar player to Aaron Jones in Alvin Kamara, and although he’s an explosive part of their offense, the Saints have managed him very carefully over his brief NFL career.
Why Kamara makes sense as a comparison
Kamara is a near ideal comparison for Jones for a couple reasons. First and foremost, they’re near clones athletically. The indispensable Mockdraftable.com lists Kamara as an 83.9% match for Jones based on their athletic testing numbers. Kamara may be an inch taller and a few pounds heavier, but other than that, they’re about as close to identical as you can get.
The two also have similar skill sets. Neither is a between the tackles runner (an increasingly irrelevant skill set in the NFL anyway) and both thrive in space on running and passing plays.
Let me be clear about one thing related to these two, though: I’m not saying they are comparable players from a skill or talent perspective. Kamara is one of the league’s most exciting, productive players. Jones is still getting there. The Saints also deploy Kamara as a more traditional receiver at times, while the Packers have been slow to do things like that with Jones.
For the purposes of this article, we’re purely talking about how much Jones should be getting the ball, not addressing the particulars about how or where he’s deployed compared to Kamara.
How much do the Saints Use Alvin Kamara?
Despite his clear explosive ability and his dependable production whenever he gets the ball, the Saints have resisted the temptation to force feed Kamara. To be sure, this is in part due to the other effective players the Saints have on offense, but a significant part of it has to do with the Saints using Kamara wisely.
To determine exactly how frequently the Saints are using Kamara, it’s helpful to utilize our Usage Rate stat (which you can read about on our Advanced Stats page). As a short summary, Usage Rate tracks how often a player is the focus of (or “uses”) one of his teams plays. It’s a better measure than just counting touches or targets because it accounts for how many of a team’s total plays are going to a particular player
On average, Kamara has been the focus of 23% of the Saints plays over the course of his still-short NFL career. That number has been markedly higher through the Saints’ first four games this season, but generally speaking Kamara gets a little less than one out of four of the Saints’ offensive snaps.
It’s worth noting that Kamara has been on the field for far more than 23% of the Saints’ offensive snaps. He played 44% of the Saints’ snaps last year and is up to more than 80% so far this year. Clearly, the Saints think he can affect the game even without the ball in his hands, another lesson the Packers would be wise to apply to Jones.
What does this mean for the Packers?
Using 23% as a guideline for Jones’ usage, there’s a couple things we can learn.
First, that rate would actually be a little bit less than the Packers used Jones at his peak last year. From Week 4 through Week 7, Jones was the focus of 72 out of 236 offensive plays, or just over 30%. That number is basically in line with how the Saints have used Kamara so far this year, but given Jones’ injuries last year (and the relative lack of explosiveness elsewhere on the Packers’ running back depth chart), shooting a bit lower would probably be wise.
Second, to get to that 23% number, the Packers actually don’t have to use Jones all that much more. With 11 carries and one target on Sunday, Jones used just under 16% of the Packers’ 76 offensive plays. He’d only need seven more touches to cross the 23% barrier.
Assuming the Packers used him as a runner more than a receiver (typical for a Mike McCarthy offense), that would take Jones to 15 carries and four targets. Interestingly enough, McCarthy said his goal for Jones was 15 carries on Sunday.
Seven additional touches shouldn’t be a big ask for the Packers. Jones is clearly their most explosive offensive player right now. He changes the offense whenever he’s on the field and is a threat whenever the ball is in his hands. The Saints have shown how a weapon like Jones can be used. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to do it.