The Green Bay Packers could still have star running back Aaron Jones in the lineup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2, but they sound pretty confident in the “next man up” who would replace him in the event Jones is sidelined.
Jones was officially listed as questionable with a hamstring injury in the Packers’ final injury report for Sunday’s game against the Falcons, but there is doubt about whether he will receive the green light to play. He did not practice all week after tweaking his hamstring on his 35-yard touchdown reception in Week 1’s win over the Chicago Bears.
Should Jones sit, though, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said it could “absolutely” mean undrafted rookie Emanuel Wilson will have a chance to play his first NFL snaps.
“Yeah, absolutely,” LaFleur said of Wilson during his September 15 press conference. “He would be the next man up, so if that is the case, he’ll be ready to go.”
Wilson played his way onto the Packers’ 53-man roster during the preseason, leading all running backs with 38 carries and 233 rushing yards over three performances. While the Packers kept him inactive for their season opener as the No. 3 running back, they have no doubt he will be ready to step up for Jones if his number is called in Week 2.
“Yeah, he’s done a good job,” Packers offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich echoed after Thursday’s practice. “We saw what he was about in preseason. He made some pretty big plays, ran the ball well, so if he gets in there, he would be ready.”
Packers Offense Will Need to Adjust if Jones is Out
Stenavich is comfortable admitting there are certain plays they will not be able to run if Jones is unavailable on Sunday. That much should be obvious after Jones played a critical role in last week’s win over the Bears, scoring two touchdowns and putting up 127 all-purpose yards in less than three quarters of work. His absence, however, would also allow them to lean into the strengths of their other, built-different backs.
“Just gotta move on to the next guy,” Stenavich said Thursday. “That’s the thing about the NFL. You talk about it with the players. Everyone’s got to be ready because at some point in the season your opportunity is going to get called on and we’ve just got to be ready to go, no matter who is in there. We may not have some things if Aaron Jones isn’t playing obviously, but we may have others for other guys, so it’s just balancing it out and always trying to get the ball to your best playmakers.”
The Packers could end up leaning quite a bit on AJ Dillon and his experience if Jones does not play against the Falcons, but Wilson showed better speed in the preseason and might be a more natural fit for some of the swifter plays they normally call for Jones. It is also not unreasonable to think that he and Dillon could somewhat evenly split carries given their separate skill sets, especially against a Falcons defense that struggled to stop the run (154 yards) in their first game of the season.
Christian Watson, 2 Others Questionable vs. Falcons
Jones would be a significant loss for the Packers if he was unable to play against the Falcons, but he is also not the only starter with his status in jeopardy this weekend. The Packers also listed All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), wide receiver Christian Watson (hamstring) and inside linebacker Quay Walker (concussion) as questionable.
Watson did practice on Friday for the first time since August 31 when he first injured his hamstring, but a step in the right direction does not necessarily mean the 2022 second-round pick will be cleared in time to rejoin the offense against the Falcons. On the bright side, fellow starting receiver Romeo Doubs was given no injury designation for the week and was a full participant in Friday’s final practice of the week.
The other two questionable players seem to have clearer paths to playing on Sunday.
For Bakhtiari, LaFleur said he is most likely going to be listed as questionable for the remainder of the season just as a part of their maintenance and routine with him, but the All-Pro left tackle played last week — and played quite well — after not practicing all week. As long as his knee continues to check out, odds are he will be ready to play.
Meanwhile, Walker is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol after taking a crack at the goal line during his pick-six against the Bears in the season opener. He did participate in the final two practices of the week, but he will still need to get the all-clear from the league if he wants to have a chance of suiting up for the defense against the Falcons.