Why Did the Vikings Value Aaron Jones In A Depressed RB Market?

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past decade, the NFL analytics community has exerted an ever-increasing level of influence over the game. This is true in a myriad of ways, but perhaps the two most prominent examples are in creating an increase in fourth-down attempts and the devaluing of running backs. Many GMs value individual running backs less, so they spend less on the position. The message from the analytics crew is loud and clear: Running backs don’t matter.

Tell that to the Minnesota Vikings, whose ground game struggled throughout 2023. They cut Dalvin Cook in the offseason, believing Alexander Mattison could replace his production. Ty Chandler was effective in spurts, and Cam Akers played well after Minnesota traded for him — before his season-ending injury, that is. The Vikings finished as the fourth-lowest rushing-yard total with 1,553 and tied for last in rushing touchdowns with seven. Many fans grew frustrated when Minnesota’s running backs couldn’t punch the ball in five yards away from the red zone. Regardless of how the rest of the league sees it, the Vikings had to prioritize upgrading their running backs this offseason.

Instead of trying to cut back on the position or go with cheaper alternatives in 2024, the Vikings made an investment. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah cut Mattison and signed former Green Bay Packers standout Aaron Jones to a one-year, $ 7 million deal, making him the 11th-highest-paid running back in the NFL headed into September’s kickoff.

Adofo-Mensah comes from an analytics background. He cut Cook in his first offseason to avoid paying a high cap hit for a running back. But Adofo-Mensah appears to be adjusting his position on running backs, considering that Jones, 29, is entering his eighth season.

“We get the conversation about running backs and age and different things like that,” he told the Pioneer Press. “Maybe that dynamic has gone a little too far to the other side, and teams are realizing that there are still really good players at their value. It’s a position where we can really upgrade performance pretty efficiently. We’re excited to have him.”

The Vikings have two first-round picks, positioning themselves to trade up for their quarterback of the future. After trading with the Houston Texans to get the 23rd-overall pick, Minnesota’s next selection is in the fourth round. Therefore, to find a running back, they needed to find a running back who could produce instantly in free agency.

Chandler was Minnesota’s only running back with in-game experience, carrying the ball only 102 times last season. Jones was an excellent answer to help bolster a supporting cast that includes Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson at skill positions. Jones and Chandler can form a 1a to 1b partnership in the backfield. They should provide a stable running game for a rookie quarterback.

Jones finished last season with five consecutive 100-yard games. He has averaged five yards per carry in his career, so he should consistently produce positive and explosive rushing plays. Furthermore, he’s a significant receiving threat on third down, with a track record of catching passes out of the backfield. Since entering the league, he’s ninth in receptions at 272 and fourth in touchdown receptions with 18.

Kevin O’Connell likes to call a fair amount of running back screens, which probably played a part in pursuing Jones. Jones can find the right holes in short-yardage situations, has reliable hands, and only has nine fumbles in eight seasons. That’ll come as a relief to KOC, who last season was visibly frustrated with his running backs fumbling the ball.

“He is 29 years old,” O’Connell said, referring to Jones, “but he’s also been part of an offense where he hasn’t had to carry the full burden, the full load, and the impact on third down as a pass-protector, a receiver out of the backfield. Five yards-per-carry career average. This is a guy that’s had the type of impact we were looking for.”

Adofo-Mensah decided to pay Jones for proven production at a position that the Vikings needed to upgrade, and he believes Aaron provided good value. Adofo-Mensah also gave himself peace of mind at the position heading into the draft and made his head coach happy in the process.

“I offered to drive to Green Bay to help pack his stuff,” O’Connell said when he heard Jones was signing with Minnesota.

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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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