How Aaron Jones’ two-game suspension impacts his potential breakout season with the Green Bay Packers.
Jones was suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season for an incident stemming from an arrest in November 2017. Jones was arrested on a slew of charges including operating under the influence (marijuana), speeding, and operating a vehicle without a license.
The former fifth-round pick seized the limited opportunities he got during his rookie season. He flashed signs of explosiveness, decisiveness, and stardom. Jones is battling fellow teammates Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery for snaps at the running back position.
Jones’s 2018 campaign is not off to a good start. In a competitive backfield that will be a “running back-by-committee”, according to head coach Mike McCarthy, he is now behind the curve. The good news for Jones is that he can still participate in team practices and play in the four preseason games.
Before I start breaking down what Jones will need to do in order to have a “breakout” season, there are some numbers I need to go over.
He averaged a blistering 5.5 yards per carry on 81 attempts in his rookie season. This number will undoubtedly go down in 2018. Most top-end running backs average somewhere between four and five yards in any given season, but not many average over five for an entire year.
For this reason, and for future reference in this article, the number I am going to settle on is 4.5 yards per carry. That might still be a bit optimistic, but if Jones is truly going to “breakout” in 2018, he will need to average somewhere around this number to do so.
Averaging 4.5 yards per carry is not a daunting task nor is it an easy one. It might even be slightly higher than a realistic average or projection for Jones. However, due to the log jam at the running back position, this number will need to be a little bit higher.
As I mentioned above, Jones is currently fighting for playing time. In my opinion, he is the most talented runner on the roster. However, the coaching staff has shown to be fond of, even speaking on it at times, both Williams and Montgomery.
This is not to say that Jones has fallen out of favor with the coaches, but that he will just have to work that much harder. Working under the assumption that he earns the starting job out of training camp and plays all 14 games he is eligible for, Jones would have to average about 72 yards per game to hit the 1,000-yard benchmark. Averaging 72 yards a game is by no stretch of the imagination unreachable.
The problem in achieving this magical 72 yards per game mark is the current workload at the position. For now, let’s assume that Green Bay runs the ball 30 times per game.
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Head coach Mike McCarthy was hired in 2006. Since then, his teams have averaged about a 42/58 clip of run-to-pass ratio. There isn’t much reason to believe that rate will change in McCarthy’s 13th year as head coach.
The other big reason is Aaron Rodgers. The team may seek to start protecting Rodgers after he suffered a second collarbone injury last season. This would benefit Jones immensely. Traditionally, the Packers have averaged about 26 carries a game during the McCarthy era. I, personally, would like to see that number jump to 30.
If Jones were somehow able to blaze out 5.5 yards per carry again, he would need about 13 carries a game to reach the 1,000-yard mark. However, as I stated above, that seems relatively unrealistic. At the more attainable 4.5 yards per carry, he would need about 16 carries a game to reach the milestone. This is contingent upon two things: Jones wins the starting job and takes the majority of the running back snaps, and the play calling will need to lean more in favor of the running game.
If there were ever a year for the play calling to be more run-heavy than in the past, this is it. With Rodgers coming off of his second major collarbone injury, protecting him is in the team’s best interest. On top of that, the Packers possibly have the best stable of running backs in the NFL. It would behoove them to rely on them as opposed to Rodgers’ arm.
For Jones to get 16 carries out of 30 per game, that would be equal to 53 percent of the team’s rushing attempts. That idea does not appear to be too far-fetched. Montgomery could develop into a specialist role and Williams could easily develop into a high-level spell back.
Jones’ upcoming suspension definitely does not help his case to have a “breakout” year in 2018. The two games he will miss will set him back in playing time and development. He will just have to impress the coaches during camp and the preseason. I have faith that Jones can do just that.
For Jones to get 16 carries a game, it would work out at 224 for the season. That would definitely be an indictment of Jones’ abilities and the coaching staff’s beliefs in them.
There are a lot of dominoes that will need to fall Jones’ way. If it’s not going to happen in 2018, my faith that it will ever happen begins to seriously dwindle.
The Packers have a good problem. While I believe Jones is the best of the group, Packers fans have to know whoever wins the starting job has truly earned it. All three of these young backs will have a role in this offense. The key is figuring out to what degree.