Back in the 2019, I wrote a column about the rise of Green Bay Packers’ running back Aaron Jones, and how his prowess as a star running back helped push the Packers over the hump and into Super Bowl contention.
But now — as much as it pains me to say this — a season and a half of regular season dominance later, with no rings to show for it and Jones headed to free agency, I think it’s time for Green Bay to move on from the former Texas standout. Here’s why:
Aaron Jones is going to get PAID this offseason:
In 2020, despite missing two games, the fourth-year running back ranked No. 4 in the league in rushing yards (1,104) and No. 3 among RBs in yards per carry (5.5). And while his touchdown numbers dipped from a league-leading 19 in 2019 to 11 in 2020, it’s largely due to the Packers running back-by-committee system as well as the show put on by Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams.
Speaking of receiving, Jones is no slouch on that end either, as he took another big stride toward becoming the workhorse he can be. In his 14 games, Jones caught 47 passes (11th best in the league) at a career-best 74.6 percent clip and showed solid ability out of the backfield as well as lined up outside.
So, when you put together Jones’ efficiency and ability in all aspects of the offense, you are looking at a three-down back like few others in today’s game. Think a slightly watered-down Christian McCaffery or Dalvin Cook.
In terms of money, these guys are getting each getting paid upwards of $12 million yearly, with CMC earning a league-high $16 million among RBs. Simply put, this is money that I fully believe Jones deserves, but that the Packers simply don’t have this offseason (or probably for offseasons to come).
With other guys like Corey Linsley — who would be tougher to find a comparable replacement for — about to hit free agency, I’d prioritize them over Jones, especially when you realize the other part of the Packers RB-by-committee approach would be as good a replacement as the Packers could find. Which gets us to reason No. 2:
The future might already be in Green Bay:
Let’s start with Jamaal Williams. The fourth year RB has now served as one of the best backups in the NFL since entering the league back in 2017. In his past two seasons, he has racked up at least 450 yards, over 4.0 YPC and 30 receptions, and has solidified himself as the thunder to Jones’ lightning that can be used as a receiving back, power back or even a starter when Jones was out with an injury. Now that Jones is likely to move on from the team, it may be histime to step up.
In the two games that Jones missed in 2020, Williams stepped into a starting role and combined for over 150 rushing yards and 10 catches for 64 receiving yards. These numbers don’t jump off the page, but for as pass-happy and efficient as the Packers were this past season, all you need is for your RB to get yards consistently, which is what Williams does.
But being completely honest, Williams’ future with the team is uncertain as well. He is entering free agency at the same time as Jones, and while he would cost less than Jones, there may be teams chomping at the bit to have a backup as effective as Williams on their roster.
Enter insurance policy No. 2 and perhaps the real future of the Packers run game: AJ Dillon.
After shocking the world by picking QB Jordan Love with their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Packers took it one step further by taking RB AJ Dillon in the second round. Looking back, at least the Dillon pick doesn’t look too out of place, as he’s got a real shot at taking over this offense should either Jones or Williams leave.
Entering the league, Dillon had drawn some comparisons to a smaller Derrick Henry, which kept me intrigued, but I was skeptical how a talent with that comp would fall to the second round. But Dillon’s small sample size in 2020 sold me on him, and I’m ready to see him shine.
Dillon received more than five carries in a game just once in the season, their matchup against the Tennessee Titans in Week 16. This wasn’t a throw away game by any means, as both the Packers and Titans were jostling for a playoff position in their respective conferences, so this was a crucial game for both sides.
And in Dillon’s first career start, the rookie took over. Battling against the player he was compared to in college, Dillon bested Derrick Henry in rushing yards (124 to 98), yards per carry (5.9 to 4.3) and touchdowns (2 to 0). Dillon looked strong, confident and was nearly impossible to tackle all afternoon.
I’m not by any means saying that would be the nightly expectation for Dillon, but it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility, making him one of the most exciting prospects in recent Packers history.
I really do appreciate everything Jones has done for the Packers over his time with them. But I think for the betterment of the team and so he can finally get the big contract he deserves, it’s time to move on.