Fantasy Football: Does Aaron Jones Have Too Much Working Against Him This Year?

Will dreaded touchdown regression and a crowded backfield limit the upside of one of last season's top fantasy running backs?

Aaron Jones has done nothing but exceed expectations (both on the field and in fantasy lineups) since he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth-round of the 2017 NFL draft.

Over the last two years, he has significantly outplayed his season-long fantasy average draft position (ADP). Jones was selected as the 38th running back (RB38) with a 90.7 average overall ADP in 2018 and finished as RB24. In 2019, he went at RB15 (31.4 average overall ADP) and finished as RB2 in full point-per-reception (PPR) formats.

As for 2020, BestBall10's ADP data since mid-July has Jones at RB13 (overall average ADP of 15.9).

Jones has shown that he is one of the better backs in the league (his exact ranking likely depends upon the frequency in which cheese is on your head, of course). But we know that talent doesn’t always lead to an equivalent level of fantasy success. So realistically, what can we expect for Aaron Jones this year in season-long leagues?

The Touchdowns

Oh, the many touchdowns. Last season, Jones totaled a whopping 19 scores (16 rushing). But let’s just get that number out of our heads for this upcoming season.

Touchdown regression has been well documented in fantasy football. As a reminder, since 2010, when a running back scored 17-plus total touchdowns in a season, the number of scores the following season decreased by an average of 8.3. Todd Gurley’s increase in total touchdowns from 2017 to 2018 stands as the single exception.

To score many of those touchdowns, Jones really didn’t have to go too far. His 2019 campaign had the sixth highest total touchdowns rate per 100 yards gained from scrimmage in the last 10 years (minimum of 150 touches) at 1.22.

Player Season TDs Per 100 Scrimmage Yards
LeGarrette Blount 2016 1.50
Jeremy Hill 2015 1.37
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 2011 1.33
Todd Gurley 2019 1.32
LeSean McCoy 2011 1.23
Aaron Jones 2019 1.22
Peyton Barber 2019 1.20
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 2010 1.19
Ahmad Bradshaw 2011 1.19
Mark Ingram 2019 1.19

Two additional reasons why I like this table: There's a BenJarvus Green-Ellis sighting (can't pass up an opportunity to drop that name), and the number of backs included from last season [insert thinking emojis here].

So why is Aaron Jones on this list and why does it matter?

The Packers fed him the ball often when inside the five-yard line, where they were incredibly efficient. Jones tied Ezekiel Elliott for the league lead in touchdowns inside five yards at 10 scores, both on 14 attempts. Their conversion rate, by the way, also led the league last year.

The Packers' second-round draft pick, A.J. Dillon, did a lot of work near the goal line during his last year at Boston College. When the Packers sniff the end zone, it’s hard to see head coach Matt LaFleur passing up the opportunity to utilize his bruising new runner. Nine of Dillon's 14 rushing touchdowns last season for Boston College came within this five-yard range.

In addition to the myriad of reasons for touchdown regression that is seen year over year, Dillon will likely sap Jones’ touchdown opportunities even further.

The Volume

Jones is very talented with the ball in his hands. PlayerProfiler ranked him fourth in evaded tackles and sixth in total yards created (a measurement of yards gained after the first evaded tackle) for last season. But you can’t make defenders miss without the ball. Will he get enough touches to take advantage of his ability and offset some of the touchdown regression?

Let’s look deeper into Jones’ production by comparing splits between the first and second half of the season. In just one game, Jones amassed 34% of his season’s receiving yards (159 of 474); the median was used as the summary statistic in the table below to get a better sense of what was “typical” for Jones because his yardage data is skewed.

Median Statistics Games 1 - 8 Games 9 - 16
Rushing Attempts 13 13
Rushing Yards 48.5 72
Percentage of Yards Coming After Contact 41.5% 60.2%
Targets 6.5 3
Receptions 4 1.5
Receiving Yards 33.5 3

The median of three receiving yards in the second half of the season isn’t a typo. In four of his final eight games last season, Jones had zero or negative receiving yards.

Even though Jones saw a fair amount of success as a receiver in the first half of the season -- including that massive 159-yard, 2-touchdown receiving game -- there was a clear shift away from Jones as a receiver over the final eight games as his rushing productivity substantially increased.

This change is also shown in Rushing and Receiving Net Expected Points (NEP) splits:

Total Net Expected Points Games 1 - 8 Games 9 - 16
Rushing NEP 8.47 14.58
Receiving NEP 25.72 2.29

Jones' 2019 season seemed to be an "either/or" between his rushing and receiving production. Catching passes like the first half and running like the second half of the season is much easier said than done.

Jones’ coach probably isn’t going to help getting him a ton of touches since LaFleur has a track record of spreading the workload amongst his running backs. Jamaal Williams played more than 10 snaps in all but three games last season. Only once during those games did Jones get 13 or more snaps than Williams, resulting in a consistent 60/40 split.

When LaFleur was the Titans' offensive coordinator in 2018, Derrick Henry only out-carried and out-touched Dion Lewis by 60 rushing attempts and 16 touches, respectively. LaFleur won’t use Jones as a workhorse back, and if Dillon can contribute as more than a goal-line sledgehammer, the two running backs will share even more carries.

When it comes to Jamaal Williams, he'll likely be just as much a factor this season as last. Coaches love when players on the lower end of the depth chart can contribute on special teams, and Williams played on 28.7% of the Packers special teams snaps in 2019. Add in limited training camps and no preseason, and continuity becomes more important.

It’s likely that Green Bay will have a very packed backfield this season, with all three running backs seeing a good amount of time on the field.

The Conclusion

What should we expect from Aaron Jones this season?

Our model ranks him at RB13 in standard scoring and RB12 in PPR formats. Unlike in his last two seasons, we shouldn't expect Jones to exceed that slot.

As things stand in Green Bay, there just isn't a path to Jones getting either the touchdowns or volume of touches necessary to significantly outpace this rank and re-enter fantasy’s top tier of running backs. Touchdown regression and a crowded backfield will lower Jones’ ceiling in season-long fantasy, making other skill players with more upside better targets to draft early on.