With the 182nd pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers selected running back Aaron Jones.
Lombardi Ave’s Ralph Mancini spoke to Jones ahead of the draft. Enjoy hearing what the newest member of the Packers had to say.
Sometime in 2022 we may be looking back at this year’s class of running backs and comparing it to the 2011 draft in terms of how bountiful that harvest was for disruptors in the front seven.
So, as much as the consensus top-three ball carriers are being showered with accolades by the mainstream media, it might be safe to suspect that shrewd NFL decision-makers are well aware that comparable talent will be there for the taking in the mid to late rounds.
One of those prospects is a 5-foot-9, 208-pound dynamo that blows by defenses as if he were powered by rocket fuel.
Despite scoring 30 touchdowns as a senior along with earning All-City and All-District honors at running back, wide receiver and on defense at Burges High School in El Paso, Texas, Aaron Jones was curiously neglected by several recruiters that chose to set their sights on athletes from some of the bigger cities of the Lonestar State.
Without many options from which to choose, Jones happily signed on with his hometown UTEP Miners, which allowed the family-oriented collegian to play alongside his brother, Alvin Jr., and stay in close proximity to his parents, Vurgess, an active duty member of the armed forces, and Alvin Sr, a U.S. Army veteran.
Growing up in that type of military household helped instill a sense of discipline in the freshman that allowed him to quickly get his head in the playbook and almost immediately emerge as a featured component of UTEP’s offense and gain 811 rushing yards despite only making six starts.
It wouldn’t take long for team personnel and opponents alike to recognize No. 29’s combination of patience to identify open lanes and sudden acceleration to run to daylight.
But while the breakaway threat possessed the explosiveness to leave defenders standing in place, he was never one to shy away from contact. Jones’ fearless nature in driving through tacklers and maintaining his balance to squeeze out extra yardage endeared him to the fan base and made the local icon arguably one of those most popular performers in school history.
The multi-faceted back’s efforts in his maiden voyage through Conference USA was only a mouth-watering appetizer leading up to the main course, as he took his game to the next level by serving as a pass-catching weapon that didn’t limit himself to running the garden-variety screen and dump-off routes that most of his running-back brethren were executing.
Jones’ sophomore campaign saw him haul in 30 passes while showcasing his natural ability to run vertical patterns and catch the ball in his hands and with his fingertips.
The 2014 Dave Campbell Texas Running Back of the Year was particularly effective from the slot where he would torch slower linebackers on down-the-middle seam routes.
When one incorporates Jones’ potential as a pass-catching weapon with his exhilarating burst to penetrate the first two levels for sizeable gains, it is easy to detect some analogous traits the aspiring pro shares with Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk.
Following an injury-riddled 2015 season, Jones concluded his legendary run as the focal point of UTEP’s offense by producing a career-high 1,773 yards on the ground with 17 touchdowns. Those results not only earned him the distinction of being honored as a First-Team All-Conference USA selection, but also elevated the young phenom as his school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,114 yards.
Yet for all he’s accomplished between the white lines, Jones hasn’t let his fame and remarkable popularity in the El Paso area prevent him from giving back to the community where he was raised.
In fact, the NFL prospect takes great pleasure in interacting with adolescents and teens by encouraging them to stay in school, as he recently did while dropping in at his old stomping grounds at Ross Middle School, where he signed autographs for his many supporters.
In recent weeks, NFL decision-makers have been warming up to the redshirt junior, as several teams, including the Cowboys, Eagles, 49ers, Packers, Saints and Texans, have met with Jones, whose exemplary human qualities provide the type of added value that can only boost his draft stock with the draft less than a week away.
The future rookie’s agent Leigh Steinberg offered some insight into his client’s altruistic ways by citing how Jones recently got in his car to make the 344-mile trip from El Paso to Lubbock in a show of support for his friend Patrick Mahomes during the quarterback’s pro day.
When asked about what he brings to an NFL organization, Steinberg added, “He carried the ball an immense amount of times. You know, he’s not only good in the running game, but he facilitates the passing game with his route running and his ability to chip block and do the rest.”
“You’re really looking at a well-rounded back with a spark in that he’ll run it for 4, run it for 3, run it for 6, and then—boom—he’s just gone. So, he’s got that and he seems to have extraordinary stamina, so that he’s as productive in the fourth quarter as he is in the first.”
Jones was kind enough to give Lombardi Ave a few minutes earlier this week to reflect on his recent past and lend perspective on the road ahead.
Here is the 22-year-old game-breaker is his own words.
Q: As an athlete who grew up in the El Paso area, you were a big star in high school both on offense and on the defensive side of the ball. I mean, you even scored 30 touchdowns one year and still you weren’t very highly rated when recruitment time came around. Why was that?
A: Coming out of high school, I weighed 165 pounds, so I think that’s one of the reasons. Then, at the time, a lot of the scouts and recruiters didn’t come to El Paso to recruit because you have a lot of bigger cities in Texas where you could find some of the same athletes. You [now] have multiple in El Paso, but, at the time, it was just maybe one or two athletes.
Q: What allowed you to make an immediate impact as a true freshman at UTEP where you gained 811 yards despite making only six starts as a freshman?
A: I was able to pick up the offense quickly and when we got into camp, I took advantage of every opportunity I got to carry the ball. Coach (Sean) Krugler also told me that he wasn’t redshirting me and that helped me a lot in learning the offense.
Q: Can you talk about the style of offense you played in this past season and what your role was with that system?
A: We ran pretty much a pro-style offense. We had a fullback, a tight end and sometimes we played with double tight ends and a fullback. We huddled up, so I think that definitely prepared me for the next level. My role in the offense was to carry the ball, block and catch the ball out of the backfield. I did a little bit of everything.
Q: You former coach Sean Krugler is a New York guy. How did he help in your development?
A: My head coach and coach (Cornell) Jackson, my running back coach, they sat down and actually taught me the game and how to identify the defense [the opponent] is in and how to know when somebody’s blitzing by looking at the safety rotation. Really, it was just sitting me down and taking the time to teach me a lot of things…pass protection…and I’m really grateful. They really helped me out.
Q: One of the first things I noticed about you is your extraordinary balance. What makes you a running back that is so hard to tackle when get an open crease?
A: Just not wanting to die easy. I don’t want one man to tackle me; it should take multiple people to tackle me. It’s that and my balance. I work on that a lot with a lot of rehab and stuff like that.
Q: You played with your brother Alvin, who’s a linebacker with UTEP. How big was it that you both could exchange notes on what the other side of the ball was doing?
A: It was definitely helpful on certain plays. After practice or at home, I would ask him, What are you all reading on this play? I would find out what they’re reading and that would make it easier for me when I was actually running the ball in a game.
Q: You’re 208 pounds, which isn’t small, but isn’t huge. Would you consider yourself more of a power runner that takes pride in meeting defenders head-on or someone that’s more elusive?
A: I would say a little bit of both. I can run around them or run through them at the same time, so a little bit of both. I would say it’s a mix.
Q: I know that at one point you were a wide receiver. What do you bring to the table as far as being a weapon out of the backfield?
A: My sophomore year of high school…that’s when I first got moved up to varsity and started playing slot receiver. It definitely helped me a lot. I didn’t know it was going to help me as much as it did. When I got to college, it helped me out a lot. They would line me up in the slot. It definitely helped my route running. It adds another dimension to your game.
Q: How many different routes did you run?
A: I ran corners, fade routes, posts, halfback options, angle routes, wheel routes…a little bit of everything.
Q: Ha ha. You sound like the next Marshall Faulk?
Q: You played some hoops and ran track in high school. Was there ever any consideration to play those sports on a full-time basis in college?
A: Basketball was. That was my favorite sport. I played one year at UTEP in my freshman year, but I stopped after that that to focus on football.
Q: What can you tell me about your blocking?
A: My blocking has been coming along since my freshman year. My head coach and my running back coach sat me down and showed me protections. And now that I understand it, it’s come a long way. I just have to work on my pass protection techniques, which isn’t a big problem. I can work on that every day and get better at it. It would be different if I didn’t, but I do.
Q: What’s your most memorable moment of your college career and what’s been your biggest regret?
A: Breaking the all-time rushing record [at UTEP] was my best memory. My regret would be not winning the conference championship.
Q: Who were some Dallas Cowboys you grew up rooting for as a fan of the Silver and Blue?
Q: Both your parents are military people. How did that influence your upbringing?
A: Their influence was big. There was a lot of yes mam, no mam, yes sir, no sir. Just being accountable, being on time, being respectable. That’s taken me a long way. People may not even know me and they’ll go to my parents and say, Your kid is great. But they really don’t know me, but just by talking to me, they can see how respectful I am. It’s taken me a long way.
Q: What kind of teammate are you in good times and bad?
A: I’m a leader no matter what. Through bad times, I try to pick us up. I try to get guys going and showing them things are not that bad and things could be changed. In good times, I’m still the same person.
Q: Talk about this whole pre-draft process from all the training, the combine, pro day and team visits—is it too drawn out?
A: I’m enjoying the process, but the only bad part is that when you get closer to the draft, you just have to wait. But overall, I’ve enjoyed it.
Q: What is your most underrated quality?
A: I would either say my vision or my ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Q: What led you to select Leigh Steinberg’s sports and entertainment company to represent you?
A: They just do everything the right way. Everything they told me they were going to do, they did. I know [Leigh] is big among agents. He’s pretty much one of the masters. He knows what he’s doing. He’s had a lot of great clients and a lot of people look up to him.
Q: Aaron, it’s now time to tackle some non-football questions. What is your favorite meal?
A: Steak, broccoli and rice.
Q: Who is your favorite music artist?
Q: What is your favorite family activity?
A: Probably bowling or watching a movie.
Q: What’s the best thing about the state of Texas?
A: Everything’s bigger in Texas.
Q: Which female celebrity would you love going out on a dinner-date with?
Q: What are three or four words that best describe you as an individual, a player and as a teammate?
A: Humble, hardworking, respectful and playmaker.