The Green Bay Packers boasted a powerful, fantasy-friendly offense in 2020 and should do so again in 2021. With running back Jamaal Williams‘ departure in free agency, all eyes are on star running back Aaron Jones, who just might see his biggest workload yet.
Let's dig into the potential for Jones to take the overall RB1 crown for 2021 fantasy football and break down his most likely route to get there.
All average draft position (ADP) info is sourced from Underdog Fantasy.
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Before diving into Jones’ outlook and usage, we should look backward to establish some parameters for previous RB1s. These are clearly talented backs, but things like role and opportunity need to align for anyone to become the top-scoring running back in fantasy football.
RB1 production and efficiency | 2015-2020
|Year||RB1||Rushing share %||Target share %||Routes run||Red-zone carries (rank)||Fantasy points per game|
|2015||Devonta Freeman||63.1%||15.7%||301||49 (1st)||21.8|
|2016||David Johnson||73.4%||18.0%||435||58 (2nd)||25.8|
|2017||Todd Gurley||61.5%||15.9%||302||63 (T-1st)||25.8|
|2018||Saquon Barkley||73.7%||20.8%||420||50 (3rd)||24.0|
|2019||Christian McCaffrey||74.2%||23.3%||520||56 (T-2nd)||29.3|
|2020||Alvin Kamara||37.9%||20.9%||327||45 (T-8th)||25.2|
To nobody’s surprise, running backs need to be target hogs and/or incredibly productive as runners while maintaining high touchdown upside to achieve RB1 status. The only two backs with less than a 16% target share were Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley, but these players scored plenty of touchdowns (14 and 19, respectively).
The remaining names on the list all played massive roles as receivers, and nearly all of them also secured at least a 73% rushing share. The unicorn from the list is clearly Alvin Kamara, but he scored an absurd 16 rushing touchdowns and added five receiving touchdowns, totaling a league-leading 21 scores. That’s not an easy feat.
For Jones to become the next RB1 — which he nearly accomplished as the RB2 in 2019 — he’ll need a mix of extreme pass-game usage without losing his touchdown upside. Let’s examine whether he meets the threshold.
Green Bay RB Utilization
Jones' ceiling will ultimately be determined by how head coach Matt LaFleur chooses to deploy his backfield. Jones is clearly the superior player, but the Packers do appear to like steamroller A.J. Dillon, and late-round pick Kylin Hill has impressed throughout the preseason.
Over the past two seasons, the Packers have had an interesting split at the running back position. With Williams no longer in the equation, many expect Dillon to inherit a similar role, bit it remains to be seen how many opportunities he — and even Hill — might vulture from Jones.
Packers RB usage and opportunity rates | 2019-2020
|Year||RB||Rushing share %||Target share %||Routes run||Red zone carries||
Carries inside the 5-yard line
|Rest of RBs||3.40%||1.50%||24||1||0|
|Rest of RBs||16%||3.10%||89||7||1|
Nearly all of Jones’ stats declined from 2019 to 2020, but that can almost entirely be chalked up to him missing two games after playing the entire 16-game schedule in 2019. It appears the Packers have formed a trend for their RB1, as he would have finished in the same territory in nearly every stat on the chart. His usage held steady across the board.
If we compare Jones’ usage to the former RB1s chart, it’s clear he needs one of two things to reach an overall RB1 total — either a Kamara-esque touchdown season or for the Packers to greatly adjust how they utilize him. A workhorse role doesn’t appear to be in the cards with Dillon likely taking over the role Williams played, but Jones clearly does have other ways to get there.
Jones is currently being drafted as the RB6 with at an ADP of 9.3. The price currently feels very fair for a player who has a history of high-end production and also the ability to outproduce such a high price tag. The UTEP product ranks fifth in yards per carry (5.0) and yards after contact per attempt (3.4) among running backs with 150-plus attempts over the past two seasons.
Jones is unlikely to garner the 61.5% rushing share Gurley had in 2017 and certainly won't push the 70%-plus rate that other top backs have ridden to elite production. And he's not going to be on the Kamara end of the spectrum — hardly utilized as a runner but more or less a pseudo wide receiver out of the backfield.
Jones falls right in the sweet spot: He’s clearly the Packers’ No. 1 running back and has a shot to push a 60% rushing share. That may be enough for him to rank near the top of the NFL in rushing yardage. He’s also a useful receiver, but his target share has been significantly lower than the names above. He has also run significantly fewer routes compared to the other running backs.
There is a reason to be optimistic on that end, though, as this is where Williams' departure will be most felt. If Jones can tap into some of the routes and target share percentage left behind by Williams, he could reach a new ceiling we have yet to see. Dillon, the team’s new No. 2, only totaled 21 receptions in his college career. There’s a great chance Jones is used more frequently as a receiver this season.
While we can expect a new ceiling for Jones’ usage as a receiver, the big fear is that he may be vultured more often by Dillon's massive 250-pound frame around the goal line than he was by Williams. Still, the Packers scored the most touchdowns (64) in football last season, and they remained true to their rushing attack, ranking eighth with a 42.3% run-play percentage.
Still one of the best catches I’ve ever seen from a RB. Aaron Jones is just different ????
— Joe Kipp (@joepkipp) August 22, 2021
I expect Jones to hover right around the same 57% rushing share he has totaled the past two seasons but for his target share to sit closer to the 15% mark. The touchdown upside remains, even with Dillon in the mix near the goal line. The most likely route for Jones to secure the overall RB1 finish is by way of increased usage as a receiver, a steady rushing share that aligns with his historic usage and the high-touchdown upside to finish near the 20-plus touchdown mark.
PFF’s fantasy projections expect an RB4 finish out of Jones. While I agree that he isn’t the favorite for the RB1 crown, I do think the fifth-year RB possesses the fantasy football upside and ceiling to finish there in PPR formats. He has 1) nearly done it in the past, and 2) is connected to a Hall of Fame QB who just happens to be the reigning league MVP.
Barring anything drastic, the Packers are going to be a productive offense — an increase in receiving work could result in Jones' best season yet. While he shouldn’t be the 1.01 selection in fantasy football drafts, he may be the best option of the bunch after the top three players are off the board.