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The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
It sounds like a ludicrous thing to say. Aaron Rodgers is another year older, Davante Adams has left Green Bay, and the Packers have been in a Super Bowl window for almost three years now but haven't gotten there yet. But the team is still in a great position. Rodgers is coming off another MVP season and signed a contract extension, so he is hungry to push all the chips into the middle once more. Enter the team's not-so-secret weapon and possible No. 1 overall fantasy back -- Aaron Jones.
When we look at Jones and his chances to finish as an elite (Top 5) running back this year, three things come to mind:
- Jones’ changing outlook without Davante Adams
- How Rodgers prefers to operate the offense
- Jones' reliable history as a pass-catcher
What happens to the offense now?
Jones is a prime candidate to ascend back into the upper stratosphere of the running back class, especially as more and more teams enter the new era of committee backfields. Even though Jones is the 1A to A.J. Dillon's 1B, Jones gets a boost because of the unique situation in Green Bay. The offense is without a true No. 1 receiver for the first time in eight years.
Jones is also in an interesting contract spot. After the 2022 season, his cap hit balloons to $20 million. History tells us teams like to work veteran tailbacks to the bone when their contracts become untenable. We should expect Jones to get as many touches as he can handle this year, as Dillon is waiting in the wings ready to become the team's feature back in 2023, assuming Jones doesn't redo his current deal.
Without Adams in town anymore, the wide receiver room is as follows: Allen Lazard, the newly-drafted Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and Amari Rodgers. Lazard has never handled more than 60 targets in a season. Watson ran a very simplified offensive scheme at North Dakota State and may not be able to gain Rodgers' trust right away.
So what happens to the offense without Adams? We can be sure Jones' targets will increase markedly. Without a proven passing target to wholly rely on, Adams' targets will likely be spread out amongst the offense. That means Jones is in for a bump-up. Consider what Jones' statistics look like when Adams does not play, in an 8-game sample size seen below.
What does Rodgers like?
Rodgers has always been very picky. In their first seasons in the NFL, Adams, Jordy Nelson, and Cobb put up fantasy football finishes of WR74, WR90, and WR63. Rodgers likes to develop trust between himself and his pass-catchers. As that trust grows, he begins to give them more opportunities and spreads the ball around less. So while Christian Watson has a promising long-term outlook, he shouldn't be expected to contribute much this year.
Since Aaron Rodgers took over in 2008, the Packers have drafted 4 receivers in the first 3 rounds:— Jake Trowbridge (@JakeTrowbridge) April 29, 2022
• Jordy Nelson (2008)
• Randall Cobb (2011)
• Davante Adams (2014)
• Amari Rodgers (2021)
The BEST rookie year stats from that group?
38 receptions, 446 yards, 3 TDs (Adams) pic.twitter.com/1V4I8fRzji
As far as Lazard goes, he is the popular choice to be the WR1 in the offense. However, as noted, he has never had more than 60 targets in a season and has operated mainly as a blocker and vertical threat. The fantasy community certainly believes he can step into this role, as his ADP has risen from the WR70 range to where it is now at WR42. Should we really expect Lazard's targets to rise exponentially to the point where he is seen as a borderline WR2?
Aaron Jones is the best pass-catcher on this team
Jones sticks out as the premier pass-catcher on this team because of a few things. The first (and most simple) thing is that apart from Randall Cobb, he is the longest-tenured pass-catcher that has played a consistent role every season. He has been an integral third-down back. In each of the last three seasons, he has 300 or more receiving yards and has always been a solid route runner.
Secondly, and most importantly, Jones is just a very good pass-catcher, and he may be the best one on the team. Here are a few of his statistics and where they ranked last year.
- Targets - 65 (7th)
- Receptions - 52 (6th)
- Total TDs - 10 (8th)
- Yards Created Per Touch - 3.35 (9th)
- Production Premium - +11.6 (3rd)
- Red Zone Touches - 47 (9th)
This was all done with Dillon sharing the backfield. We know that Jones can still put up numbers even while splitting time, so if we increase these passing numbers incrementally to account for Adams' departure, there is a path for Jones to have a top-5 fantasy season even though he accounted for less rushing usage than Dillon last season.
Stats and Projections
All hands will be on deck to replace the numbers that Adams is leaving behind, and it isn't an insignificant departure. But Jones CAN carry the load. Sure his rushing numbers won't be gaudy, and Rodgers will surely spread the ball around more this season as he tries to determine who his reliable targets are. But one of them is standing right there and has been there for six reliable seasons. David Bakhtiari should be back healthy, which will boost the offensive line more. Lazard is certainly going to step up, but we should temper expectations for him. Jones is the featured skill-position player in this offense, and he should go right back to being a fantasy star this season.
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