Packers 2018 Recap: Aaron Jones
The season before Aaron Jones stepped into the Packers’ locker room for the first time, head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson had left no stone unturned trying to find a competent running back to pair with their star quarterback.
"I think if you just look at the number of runs versus passes," coach Mike McCarthy said in his season-ending news conference in 2016, "that's clearly probably a reflection of the running back situation and how we had to play."
Green Bay selected Jones in the fifth round, and his rookie season was nothing short of sensational. We wrote before the season began that his value right away could be as a pass catcher or a runner out of the shotgun, but Jones proved to be more polished and well-rounded than expected.
With a healthy Rodgers under center, would Jones be the missing piece to an elite offense in 2018?
Played in 12 games and was on the field for 35% of the offensive snaps
133 attempts, 728 yards (5.5 yards per carry), 8 TDs
23 receptions, 206 yards, 1 TD
Expectations going into the season: High
Expectations were: Met
What said after last season
2017 analysis: Exceeded low expectations
Jones was nothing if not dramatic in his rookie year. Though he averaged under 20 snaps per game over his 12 contests on the active roster, he certainly made an impression in his complementary role.
In his first extended action of the season, he torched the Cowboys for 125 yards and a score. Two weeks later, he blasted through the Saints for a 55-yard scamper. In his lone snap against the Buccaneers, he literally won the game.
In June, McCarthy floated the idea of using Jones, Williams and Montgomery equally in a committee approach. Jon’s analysis of McCarthy’s comments from episode 86 of Blue 58 are quite prophetic:
The thing is, when it comes to running backs, McCarthy has had a lot of opportunities to do more of an equal split among his backs. But outside of situations where injuries have forced his hand, there's never really been anything close to an equal split among his backs or anything that you could call a running back by committee approach. The only time things have been anything close to equal have been when there's been significant injuries to the Packers’ running backs. He has really just preferred to stick with one guy, game in and game out, drive in and drive out for the balance of his career in Green Bay.
The Packers had plenty of reasons to give Jones the ball after he served a two-game suspension to begin his 2018 season. Green Bay averaged 46.9 more yards rushing the ball in games he merely appeared in as a rookie.
Yet, McCarthy was slow to integrate Jones back into the offense after his suspension and preferred to use the combination of Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams. When Montgomery was traded to the Ravens at the trade deadline midway through the season, Jones finally began to see more consistent snaps and his true potential was shown.
One way that demonstrates just how good Jones was last season is his percentage of explosive plays. We calculate an explosive rushing play as any run that gains over 12 yards and a first down or touchdown. Of running backs who carried the ball at least 100 times in 2018, Jones finished with explosive runs on 11.3% of his attempts – the seventh-highest league-wide.
About one out of every ten times he touched the ball, Jones was moving the chains and gaining big yardage – a feat that hasn’t been seen often from Packers running backs.
What’s even better than the frequency of Jones’ explosive plays is how infrequently he was stopped for little or no gain. Of the six backs ahead of Jones in explosive plays – Austin Ekeler, Joe Mixon, Melvin Gordon, Kerryon Johnson, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman – Jones had the lowest percentage of rushes for two or fewer yards.
Jones’ 2018 season validated the potential he showed as a rookie, and gives the Packers a dynamic running back to use in 2019.