Why Josh Jacobs gives the Packers an upgrade over Aaron Jones

Green Bay Packers, Josh Jacobs
Green Bay Packers, Josh Jacobs / Chris Unger/GettyImages

Excitement quickly turned to heartbreak for many Green Bay Packers fans after some of the team's free-agent transactions last week. Green Bay signed running back Josh Jacobs to a four-year contract, seemingly forming an impressive new backfield alongside Aaron Jones.

However, the Packers soon parted ways with No. 33 after seven years. Jones signed with the Minnesota Vikings, further rubbing salt in the wound after his release.

As recently as last season, Jones had given the Packers great performances, but Jacobs is talented in his own right.

So, that begs the question: did the Packers upgrade?

The benefits of the Packers signing Josh Jacobs

One of the likely reasons Brian Gutekunst targeted Jacobs was his age. While Jones will turn 30 this December, Jacobs only turned 26 last month. In fact, the contract the ex-Raider signed is very similar to the deal Jones inked when he was 26 years old.

A key similarity in both contracts is the limited guarantees, as Jacobs has been guaranteed $12.5 million. Jones' prior contract only solidified $13 million, but he remained with the Packers for three more seasons and earned more than that initial amount.

The Packers are clearly hoping for similar results here. And, if things don't go according to plan, they can easily move on after one season and try to restock the backfield.

Financial flexibility aside, Jacobs also offers plenty of upside on the field.

The Alabama product led the NFL in rushing and scrimmage yards during the 2022 season, while also finding the end zone 12 times. His skill set isn't too dissimilar from Jones', as he's a back who can play a physical downhill style while also being capable of turning on the jets and sprinting for a house call. He's also shown impressive growth in the passing game, having hauled in 50+ receptions twice over the past three seasons after not being very dangerous on that front early in his career.

But it's inside the red zone where Jacobs could provide the biggest upgrade. Jones was never a poor short-yardage threat, but Jacobs, when right, is amongst the league's elite within the 20.

Though his numbers were a bit down in 2023, the prior two years saw Jacobs score nine red-zone touchdowns during both seasons. Additionally, he logged a combined 77 carries in scoring position across that span.

Overall, Jacobs' traits mirror Jones' in many ways. However, that doesn't mean there aren't some negatives with this recent addition.

Downsides with Packers signing Josh Jacobs

The first glaring issue with Jacobs is he's coming off a poor season, running for just 805 yards on a career-low 3.5 yards per carry. Now, part of this disappointing season can be put on Josh McDaniels' lackluster offense, but McDaniels was also the coach when Jacobs stood out the year before.

Once the Raiders started improving under Antonio Pierce across the final stretch, Jacobs was quickly sidelined due to a quad injury. Zamir White, his presumptive replacement in Las Vegas, excelled in his absence, and it's unclear if Jacobs would've found similar success.

Injuries are always a concern for running backs, but it'd be unfair to paint Jacobs as more injury-prone than Jones. Since 2019, the two standouts have each missed 10 regular season contests.

While Jacobs' injuries aren't a major concern, his lack of consistency compared to Jones is. Across his career, the longtime Packer eclipsed 5.3 yards per carry four times and never dipped under 4.6 in a season. Meanwhile, Jacobs' time out west wasn't as fruitful. Though he was an extremely efficient runner in 2019 and 2022, he sunk below four yards per rush in 2020 and last fall.

The Packers, in theory, will provide Jacobs with far more consistent blocking than he received with the Raiders. Yet, his up-and-down trajectory is still notable.

Most of all, what the Packers lose here is leadership. Jones had developed into one of the team's key veterans and was well-liked by many. He also possesses much more postseason experience than his replacement.

It's not impossible for Jacobs to fill the locker room void Jones left behind, but it will be an uphill climb initially.

The verdict

While it's arguable that the Packers didn't need to release Aaron Jones this early, the team still made the right decision to replace him with Jacobs long-term.

The fact the green and gold are getting a younger option in the backfield, who's already flashed potential as a top-end tailback, is something worth celebrating for Gutekunst and company.

Paired with as good of a quarterback and offensive line as he's ever had in the NFL, Jacobs could be in store for a memorable Green Bay tenure.

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