Last week we looked at quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ prospects for this year’s fantasy football season and now we break down the main man who shares the backfield with him. Here is running back Aaron Jones’ 2021 fantasy football outlook:
Let’s not sugar coat here – Just about every player’s potential on the Packers offense is dependent on Aaron Rodgers playing for the green and gold this season.
Aaron Jones is no different.
The threat of Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and the Packers’ explosive pass attack often left the offense facing a light box on early downs in 2020. In fact, Aaron Jones ranked 31st in the NFL last year, seeing 8 or more defenders in the box on just 19.4% of his carries, according to NextGen Stats.
It’s fair to assume this wouldn’t be the case with Jordan Love or Blake Bortles under centre.
Nevertheless, the favourable boxes boded well for Jones who averaged an absurd 5.5 yards/ attempt last season –the best in the NFL.
Jones’ efficiency was a beautiful sight for fantasy managers, but Jones’ usage left much to be desired.
Despite being the clear RB1 in the room, Jones only saw 248 touches across his 14 games (17.7 touches per game).
For a drastic comparison, Titans running back Derrick Henry saw 397 touches across 16 games last season (24.8 touches per game).
Head coach Matt LaFleur answered questions from the media all season about his cautious usage of Jones, saying he wanted to have his best back’s legs as fresh as possible for meaningful football in December and January.
From a fan’s standpoint, you can appreciate Lafleur’s cautious approach with Jones, especially when the Packers still managed to field the league’s best offense.
Why wear down the tread on a top player’s tires if you don’t have to, right?
But from a fantasy manager’s perspective, this can be frustrating after you spend a high draft pick on a player and expect him to produce top numbers each week.
Although he wasn’t used as a traditional workhorse, he produced close to one.
Jones’ efficiency paired with the Packers’ commitment to the run game allowed him to thrive in many games in 2021, finishing with more than 1400 scrimmage yards for the second consecutive season and 11 touchdowns. His 47 receptions were appreciated by PPR managers as well.
Jones entered the season ranked by many experts as the 11th best RB. He finished as the RB5 in 2020, despite missing two games.
Now in 2021, his outlook looks a bit different.
Jones, fresh off a new four-year $48 million contract, has gained notoriety among fantasy football experts as a legitimate RB1 moving forward.
He is currently the 4th ranked running back on nfl.com, projected to put up 309 fantasy points – the best output of his career.
All signs point to a highly productive year for Jones (as long as Aaron Rodgers plays).
Long-time running mate Jamaal Williams joined the Lions earlier this offseason and 2020 second-round pick A.J. Dillon is slated to take his place.
Although Dillon has shown flashes of being a dependable bruiser for the Packers, it’s easy to imagine Matt LaFleur turning to Jones more in 2021 now that one of the most reliable backs in football is no longer behind him.
Looking at the schedule, it’s inviting for jones.
His opponents allowed on average 17.81 points to running backs in 2020. Prorating 17.81 points per game across last season would’ve ranked Jones as RB4.
Jones is also facing three of the eight worst teams against running backs last season, in 2021 (Lions, Vikings, Bengals).
Similar to Rodgers, Jones’ worst stretch could take place at the beginning of the season when he faces the Saints, Niners, and Steelers in the first four weeks of the season. Those teams allowed on average 14.46 points to running backs last year.
Jones’ schedule looks like it’ll loosen up as the season progresses, facing the Cardinals, Chiefs, Hawks and Vikings from weeks 8-11 (18.82 points allowed on average in 2020).
A heavy rushing attack and involvement of running backs in the system, a weaker depth chart than last season, and a seemingly favourable schedule have Aaron Jones poised for the best fantasy output of his career, as long as Aaron Rodgers is under centre.
I anticipate Matt LaFleur will continue to exercise some caution with Jones’ usage to keep him fresh for the playoffs and that will hinder his potential slightly.
I believe Jones will finish slightly below his projection as the RB5, matching his ranking from 2020.
The fifth-year running back is being drafted 12th overall in most PPR leagues, and managers can make that pick with confidence.——————
Joshua Frey-Sam is a journalism student and aspiring sportscaster hailing from Winnipeg, Canada. A Packers fan since 2005, Josh has worked to master the financial and scouting aspect of the NFL over the past few years. Josh remains a firm believer that Dez did not, in fact, catch the ball. You can follow him on twitter at @jfreysam.