The Green Bay Packers may have lost a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers this offseason, but they still boast perhaps the most under-appreciated running back in the NFL in Aaron Jones.
Despite a new era in Green Bay with Jordan Love under center, the Packers bring back one of the most legitimate one-two backfield tandems in the league with Jones and A.J. Dillon. However, even with the team's ability to run the football, Jones continues to fly under the radar as one of the NFL's top running backs. Heading into training camp, Pro Football Network ranked Jones as just the 10th-best running back in the league.
However, when turning on the film or breaking down the advanced metrics, Jones continues to stand out as one of the NFL's top playmakers.
What Makes Aaron Jones A Top-Tier NFL Running Back?
One of the metrics that Jones consistently stands out in is Rushing Yards Over Expectation, or RYOE. Just this past season, Jones ranked third behind only Nick Chubb and Travis Etienne in that category, according to Tej Seth with Sumer Sports.
final total rushing yards over expected leaderboard for the 2022 regular season
travis etienne barely edges out nick chubb as the RYOE leader with aaron jones having another great season pic.twitter.com/3jCJqJLKzK
— Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) January 11, 2023
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) also considers Jones to be one of the best running backs in football. His rushing grade of 90.7 out of 100 was tied for second in the league in 2022 with Nick Chubb, behind only Josh Jacobs. In each of his first six NFL seasons, his rushing grade has never dropped below 79.3 for an entire year.
Along with the metrics, the game film also shows an elusive back with excellent contact balance and vision to consistently pick up positive yards. These traits, along with the motor to not give up on potentially blown plays, allows Jones to generate explosive plays that give the Packers offense the balance that NFL head coaches like Matt LaFleur are constantly seeking.
Aaron Jones, you are ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/Mwzdbv4PHV
— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 15, 2022
The Packers have utilized Jones in creative ways as a running back to get the most out of his unique skill set. Despite being listed at just 5'9" and 208 pounds, Jones is a fearless downhill runner when utilized in gap-scheme runs, including this play below.
Aaron Jones with a hell of a game last night.
143 rush yards. 7.2 ypc. 4 catches.
Counter, gap scheme, zone, catching passes, etc. He's one of the most dynamic running backs in football. pic.twitter.com/F7QgBX4bQZ
— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 31, 2022
The addition of Dillon in the 2020 NFL Draft took some of the pressure off of Jones to be a true workhorse, but also allowed LaFleur and the coaching staff to embrace two-back personnel, or the "pony package" as it's been popularly described as online. While the Packers have lacked creativity with the package at times, the team has also flashed some intriguing ways to get Jones the ball in space with defenses also having to respect Dillon's rushing ability.
Having both running backs in the backfield running misdirection and pre-snap motion also opened up the passing game for Rodgers and the Packers, as shown in some of the clips below.
? PONY PACKAGE IS BACK?
Look at all the different plays the Packers were able to run with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon on the field.
Hope this continues going forward. pic.twitter.com/33xMNkXLNk
— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 3, 2022
To add even more to Jones' impressive NFL resumé, the Packers star playmaker has also been a legitimate asset as a receiver, both out of the backfield or split out wide. Since LaFleur took over as head coach in 2019, Jones has been targeted 268 times, catching 207 passes for 1,615 yards and 16 touchdowns.
One of the most explosive plays of his career came as an outside receiver, running a deep route against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 for a 60-yard touchdown.
This was the antidote in 2019 when Davante Adams went out: Get Aaron Jones involved in the passing game, including on double-moves like this sluggo against the Chiefs.
Most complete performance of his career. Only argument is, coincidentally, Cowboys game when 17 was also out pic.twitter.com/ei92NuDTwB
— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) October 25, 2021
Physically gifted running backs like Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, and Saquon Barkley continue to capture the national headlines at the running back position. However, when it comes to pure production and dual-threat ability, there are very few players in the backfield that have the kind of impact that Jones has in Green Bay's offense.
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