Packers’ Aaron Jones Fires Back After Major Snub on NFL RB Rankings

Aaron Jones ESPN List

Getty Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after getting a first down in the second half against the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field on December 08, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Don’t expect the disrespect to weigh down Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones during the 2020 NFL season.

Jones was noticeably absent from ESPN’s list of the top 10 running backs for 2020, using a poll of more than 50 NFL executives, scouts, coaches and players to determine the rankings. Based on the 25-year-old Packer’s reaction, though, the snub has only made him more determined to prove his doubters wrong this season.

The voters made some predictable choices for the league’s top running backs, but the man who beat out Jones for the No. 10 spot — New York Jets rusher Le’Veon Bell — illustrated just how much reputation still influences opinions around the league.

According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Jones and Bell were tied at the end of voting with Jones receiving more top-10 votes and Bell finishing with the highest composite average and more top-5 votes, but a head-to-head tiebreaker found Bell ahead in a 6-4 finish. Fowler included the following write-up about Bell’s place at No. 10.

Despite a miserable season in which Bell failed to record a 20-yard rush and averaged 3.2 yards per carry, Bell still had 52 carries of 3-plus yards after first contact, tied for 10th in the NFL.

One NFC scout said Bell — who’s probably lost a half-step in speed — would still be wildly productive in Green Bay’s offense, with better quarterback and offensive line play and a good zone-running scheme.

Though Bell’s diminishing speed is something to watch in 2020, evaluators say, there’s reason for optimism after the Jets replaced a bad offensive line with several new starters, spending nearly $80 million on blocking in free agency and drafting massive tackle Mekhi Becton in the first round.

“Still a problem out of the backfield in terms of coverage,” an NFC exec said. “Didn’t run the ball as well as capable.”

Added an AFC exec: “Great hands, a load, strong, tough in pass pro.”

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Jones Received an Honorable Mention Nod

Jones didn’t go totally unrecognized for his dominant 2019 season, as he was the first-named honorable mention on the list along with Seattle’s Chris Carson, Pittsburgh’s James Conner, Denver’s Melvin Gordon and Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette.

“Home run hitter,” one anonymous NFL coach said, via ESPN’s list. “He’s got a little more juice (than Bell). Kind of came out of nowhere. Nobody expected him to do what he’s doing.”

Came out of nowhere is right. While plenty thought Jones would take a step forward in 2019 after rushing for 728 yards in 12 games in his second year, he shattered expectations with 1,202 rushing yards, 505 receiving yards and an NFL-leading 23 touchdowns across 18 games for the Packers. He also set multiple franchise records in the process.

Some of Jones’ sagging reputation among the league could be how suddenly he broke onto the scene last year, but Green Bay’s draft decisions this year might have also swayed some opinions. The Packers selected Boston College running back AJ Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, acquiring a dynamic piece for their backfield ahead of contract years for both Jones and fellow rusher Jamaal Williams.

Jones doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing his No. 1 spot in 2020 and could lock down a long-term place with the Packers with both sides are already engaged in extension talks, but there are enough variables to project uncertainty on his situation. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2021 cap could make free-agency decisions even more challenging, while a tighter budget also doesn’t mesh well with the rising contract cost of talented running backs.

As far as what Jones can control, the only thing left for him to do is move the mountain.

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