We all know the story of the Green Bay Packers’ receiving corps this offseason: The best receiver in the league forced his way out. And despite turning over nearly every stone to find an elite target for Aaron Rodgers, the team is now stuck with an inexperienced, unproven group as training camp approaches. There is only one player on the roster with a 1,000-plus-yard season: a Randall Cobb who was eight years younger than the one currently occupying a backup role in Matt LaFleur’s offense. So somebody will have to put together a career year if the back-to-back MVP is to sniff his typical production level. Why not the most experienced, versatile, and dynamic weapon on the Packers’ offense?
Why not Aaron Jones?
Yes, he’s a running back. Yes, A.J. Dillon will see the field a lot more this year. And, yes, Jones has already set a pretty high bar as far as career years go. In 2019, he accumulated over 1,500 total yards and found the end zone 19 times. But this season will call for an evolved role for the former fifth-round pick out of UTEP. The Packers face a unique situation: The relative strength of their backfield thoroughly outpaces their aptitude on the outside. This situation will increase dependence on both the running game and Jones’ dynamic ability in the passing game. As a result, Green Bay will put Jones in a role that makes him the most important man in both facets of the offensive attack.
We got a potential sneak peek at the 2022 Packers offense in last year’s Week 8 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. Missing their top three receiving threats — Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling — the Packers were forced to dominate on the ground to get the big-time road win. When they opted to pass, Rodgers and LaFleur made sure to keep the ball in the hands of their star running back. Jones and Dillon, who were widely praised for holding down the offensive fort, carried the ball a combined 31 times for 137 yards and a score, with those attempts pretty much split right down the middle. Still, Jones also led the team in receiving with 51 yards on seven catches.
The Packers have shipped Adams to Las Vegas, and Valdes-Scantling is catching passes from Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Therefore, Jones and Dillon appear poised to hold down the fort this season, similar to that electric win last October in Phoenix. While Dillon is widely expected to see more touches ahead of a potential breakout year, those will come almost exclusively out of the backfield. As his famous quads indicate, he is most certainly the bruiser of the pair.
Jones will likely see about half the carries, but expect him to play almost every offensive snap. A pair of relatively raw rookies will carry some of the load at receiver. Lazard and Sammy Watkins, neither of whom have proven to be top options in their respective careers, will take care of the rest. So why not line Jones up outside, in the slot, and also as a jet-sweep man?
Jones is going to be at the center of nearly every effort to push the ball down the field this season. It could be on the ground, in the screen game, or on passes down the field. If you are planning on being a fantasy owner this year, you should be all over what could be historic usage rates for the sixth-year weapon, particularly if your league is PPR.
According to Fantasy Pros, Jones is being drafted as the No. 13 running back, likely due to fear that Dillon will continue eating into his volume. But as I’ve been hammering home throughout this article, he’ll get the ball more than he ever has – it’s just going to come in new and creative ways.
If the 15 carries and 11 targets in the Arizona game are a harbinger of what is to come this fall, Jones shouldn’t be taken too far behind other heavy-usage backs like Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey. From a financial standpoint, Lazard, whose tender comes in just below $4 million, is getting the most compensation of any Packers receiver. That means that Jones, whose average annual salary is $12 million, is also by far the biggest investment of any player in Green Bay’s offensive weaponry. His contract is set up with an out after this season, so expect the team to get their money’s worth.
If we’ve learned anything about Aaron Jones, he will rise to the occasion.