What Aaron Jones Needs to Do to Finally Reach His Prime

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On Friday, the Green Bay Packers made it official and finalized the re-signing of Aaron Jones to a four-year, $48 million contract. Although that looks like quite the amount of money, Jones only carries a cap hit of $4.5 and $9 million over the next two seasons, respectively. In the 2023 and 2024 season however, his contract carries a hit of $19 and $15 million, meaning this deal is effectively for two years.

Jones made an interesting statement after the deal became official. He stated : “I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface to enter the prime yet. So I feel like I’ve still got a lot of growing to do, and I think it’s going to be scary for a lot of people. Just continue to grind and work, and I’ll be right where I want to be.”

If what Aaron Jones says is true, and if he hasn’t even “scratched the surface” of his prime, what could that look like? He’s rushed past the century mark in two straight seasons and has totaled 30 touchdowns over the past two years. The question remains, where can he improve and what could the 2021 season have in store for the running back? The first place he needs to focus is his role in the passing game.

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Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Where Aaron Jones Needs to Improve

Receiving

Aaron Jones over the past two seasons has totaled 96 receptions for 829 yards and five touchdowns. Statistically, it doesn’t seem like he really has much he needs to improve. However, like in almost every case in the NFL, to find the issue you have to dive deeper than simply the box score. Part of what made former Packer running back Jamaal Williams so great was his impact in the passing game. Sure, Jones seemed to make the more explosive plays, but there was a reason Williams was the main receiving back. The biggest reason is Jones simply doesn’t make the play enough.

Jamaal Williams has a career catch rate of just under 79% and has been at 86% or higher the past two seasons. Aaron Jones, on the other hand, has a career catch rate of 71% and has never eclipsed 75% in a season. Williams was also among the best route-runners on the team, while Jones typically catches screens and check-down passes.

If you want to be a great all-around back, you need to catch the ball and make the play. Jones has only dropped six passes over the last two seasons, but compare him to Williams’ three over his entire career, it’s clear that he still has work to do. It might sound like just a small decline compared to Jamaal, but there is a reason Jones has only had a targeted QB rating of over 100 once in his career while Williams had that both of his last two seasons with the Packers. Williams was able to get more open and made the play more often. The first step for Jones to truly enter his prime is to establish himself as a force in receiving. Simply put, only catching three out of every four targets is not good enough.

Pass Protection

The Packers will have a big problem in pass protection next season if Jones doesn’t answer the bell and step up. According to Pro Football Focus, Jamaal Williams had the best pass blocking grade among all running backs from 2018-20 and his effectiveness did not go down this past season either. With not only Williams gone, but also Corey Linsley, Lane Taylor and Ricky Wagner, the Packers need Jones to also block in the passing game, and it would help if he was good at it. Remember, David Bakhtiari will likely be out until midseason (at the earliest) after suffering a torn ACL in practice in late December.

The reason Jones didn’t pass block much wasn’t just because Williams was the best, it was also because he wasn’t even satisfactory most of the time. The reason the Packers offense was so good last season is simple. It’s because they gave time to the most talented quarterback of all time, the “bad man” himself, Aaron Rodgers. Without the pass protection of key offensive players from 2020, it is imperative that Aaron Jones works on his pass protection if he truly wants to “be scary for a lot of people.”

What to Expect From Aaron Jones

Say what you will about the field goal decision by Matt LaFleur in the NFC Championship Game, but he, and this coaching staff are not dumb. They know that for them to be successful, Aaron Jones needs to improve on his receiving, and really needs to work on his pass protection. While the Packers do also have promise in second-year running back AJ Dillon, he has also shown he cannot be trusted in either aspect either. As a result, they will be focusing on Jones’ development this season and he is prone for a breakout year. Statistically, I expect him to regress, thanks to the emergence of Dillon. But in terms of being a complete running back, he will really hit his stride. If he doesn’t, there is no guaranteeing this team even wins a playoff game with the current state of the NFC.

2021 Statline Prediction: 1,026 rushing yards, 68 receptions for 588 receiving yards, and 17 total touchdowns

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