Sun, 05 Feb 2023

Packers RB Aaron Jones 'keeps on defying the odds'

Packers
24 Jan 2023, 17:12 GMT+10

Veteran running back established several career highs in 2022Wes Hodkiewicz

GREEN BAY - At a position where stars come and go on a perennial basis, Aaron Jones only keeps getting better.

The 28-year-old running back went bell-to-bell for the Packers this season, starting all 17 games while recording a career-high 1,121 rushing yards. His 5.3 yards per carry were the most among running backs with at least 200 carries.

Among his litany of accomplishments, the 5-foot-9, 208-pound back moved into sole possession of third place in team history with 5,284 career rushing yards in 86 regular-season games. Jones now trails only Ahman Green (8,322) and Jim Taylor (8,207) in Green Bay annals.

That chase is something that continues to motivate the former Pro Bowler.

"I always think about that," said Jones when asked last month about being the Packers' all-time leading rusher. "It's not something I come in and voice but if you're not shooting to be the all-time leader, then really what are you shooting for?

"You're shooting to be the best or the best of all-time here. It's something I've definitely set in my mind. I did it in college. It's something I look to achieve here. Hopefully, I'm here long enough to break that."

General Manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters during his season-ending news conference on Jan. 13 that the Packers fully expect Jones to be back for a seventh season with the Packers - and for good reason.

An all-around playmaker, Jones finished as Green Bay's second-leading receiver in 2022. His career-best 59 catches were just one reception behind Allen Lazard. Beyond the on-field contributions, however, Jones also has been one of the Packers' greatest ambassadors in the community.

A son of U.S. Army veterans, Jones has been the Packers' nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in each of the past two seasons. His outreach efforts begin with the A&A All The Way Foundation, a non-profit organization Jones formed with his twin brother Alvin in 2021 that's geared towards helping youth and military families.

Last month, Jones was named one of eight finalists for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. The winner, announced during next month's NFL Honors ceremony, will receive a $25,000 donation to a charity of his choice.

Once viewed as an undersized scat back, Jones' ascension up the NFL ranks has been a testament to his talent, work ethic and sacrifice. It's made him a team captain and beloved member of the Packers' locker room.

"Obviously, he's a dynamic player," Gutekunst said. "For a guy his size, to bring it every day, he rarely misses a practice, rarely misses a rep. The way he leads that football team, his consistency is amazing.

"When we first got here, you're thinking, 'Hey, this probably won't last long because the way he's built and his size,' and he just keeps on defying the odds."

Jones hasn't done it alone. For the past two years, he's formed one of the NFL's most dynamic one-two backfield duos with former second-round pick AJ Dillon. In 2021, the two became just the second RB duo in franchise history to both eclipse 1,100 yards from scrimmage in the same season (John Brockington/MacArthur Lane, 1972).

Dillon came within 24 yards from the tandem doing that again this year, but he and Jones still combined for 2,492 total yards and 14 TDs. They were the one NFL duo besides Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to register at least 700 rushing yards and five scrimmage TDs, individually.

For all the positives, one moment will linger on for Jones this offseason - his fumble in the second quarter in the Packers' regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions. With the Packers leading 9-3, Jones extended at the Detroit 32 following an 8-yard screen when defensive end John Cominsky punched the ball out and recovered the fumble.

"I was just trying to make a play," Jones said. "I was using my off arm to stiff-arm. I know I should've probably had the ball in that arm, but the defender was coming from that side, so I stiff-armed. Just got to be better in that situation, high and tight, but can't have that. It's tough, but I'll be better next year, better ball security, all around. Not just ball security, my game as a whole will be better next year."

So it goes for the entire Packers' roster, as the team looks to regroup following an 8-9 season that ended with a 20-16 home loss to the Lions.

Still, after battling recurring ankle and shin injuries, Jones was proud to avoid missing any games. He also saved one of his best performances for late in the year, with his 111-yard rushing day helping propel the Packers to a dominant 41-17 win over Minnesota in Week 17.

As Jones looks ahead to 2023, missing the playoffs for the first time in four years only further fuels his internal fire.

"It's never how you want it to end when you're right there, you fought through so much and you're so close just to come up short," Jones said. "A little disappointed but proud of all my guys in the locker room. We fought; we never gave up. We'll be better for it in the end."

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