How Does James Jones' Return to Green Bay Impact the Packers' Wide Receivers?
Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl wideout Randall Cobb gave his team quite a scare in Week 3 of the regular season, leaving the game with a shoulder injury that gave all those watching flashbacks of the play that resulted in Jordy Nelson's season-ending injury just the week before.
And while the injury would later be described as a "minor" AC joint sprain for Cobb, in that instance, the Packers realized just how close they were to starting a trio wideouts comprised of second-year receivers Davante Adams and Jeff Janis, and rookie Ty Montgomery.
So following James Jones' release from the New York Giants on Saturday's cut-down day, it's no surprise that the Packers front office worked quickly to bring back to Green Bay the receiver, who spent his first seven seasons donning the green and gold.
What can we expect from the Green Bay wideouts now?
After an impressive 2011 season, where Jones tallied 16.7 yards per reception to put up 635 yards and 7 touchdowns on just 55 targets, Jones earned a starting spot for himself on the Packers from 2012 to 2013.
In turn, he saw his receptions and yardage rise as a result of this bigger role in Green Bay.
But as Jones' target share rose -- hitting career highs in targets (111) and receptions (73) with the Raiders last season -- his efficiency took a steady decline, collecting just 666 yards through the air.
Some may argue that this disparity in production can largely be blamed on the quality of quarterback play for Jones. Indeed, Rodgers Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back of 0.34 last season led the league, while Derek Carr's -0.07 was near the bottom of the league for all signal-callers with at least 200 pass attempts. Only Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, and fellow rookie Blake Bortles finished behind him.
For those unfamiliar, NEP is our signature metric which measure's a players contributions to his team's chances of scoring above or below expectation. If an athlete makes a play that increases his team's chances of scoring, he's credited with a positive mark, and vice-versa. To learn more about it along with some of our other advanced metrics, check out our glossary.
With that being said, a closer look at the numbers reveals that Jones' declining efficiency can't all be blamed on his time in Oakland. His declining efficiency actually began during his time in Green Bay.
Not only did his yards per reception take a nosedive from 2011 to 2014 -- going from 16.7 in 2011 to just 9.1 last year -- but his Reception NEP saw a steady decline over the years as well.
While Jones' 1.05 Reception NEP per target was third in the league among all wideouts with at least 50 targets in 2011, his 0.48 mark in 2014 ranked him in the bottom-10 in the league. And this steep decline illustrates what many others had been noticed for some time now; that Jones has suffered a growing inability to separate cleanly from defenders. And this shouldn't be a surprise given Jones' relatively slow 4.60 40-yard dash time, which has only gone up as Father Time has caught up to the eight-year vet.
Though few will argue with you that Rodgers can thread the needle with the best of them, he may not want to force the ball to Jones with Cobb's ability to win in the slot and Adams using his quick first step to win on the outside. On this note, with a Reception NEP of 0.58 in his rookie year that was already better than Jones' mark, if Adams can improve on his own efficiency and make a similar sophomore leap that Nelson made in his second year in the league, Jones stands no chance of challenging him for the number two receiver role on this team.
Instead, the 31-year-old veteran will likely be competing with rookie Montgomery and second-year man Janis for snaps in this offense.
But the real question we should all be asking is just how competitive Jones will be as he goes up against these younger, more athletic, but less experienced receivers.
Despite Jones' familiarity and level of trust with Rodgers -- which likely played a huge role in landing back with Green Bay after final roster cuts -- with Jones' release from the Oakland Raiders following the draft and his inability to beat out second-year wideout Corey Washington for a roster spot on the New York Giants, there might not be much left in the tank for Jones to carve out a significant role for himself in Green Bay.
A Role in the Red Zone?
Jones isn't the same receiver he was when he was last in Green Bay, this much is certain.
But while this means Jones won't be emerging as the wideout to own next to Cobb in the Packers offense, it also doesn't mean that he won't have some influence on how the workload is distributed on this team. And the one place I can see Jones making the biggest impact is in the red zone.
With Nelson on the shelf for the entire year with his torn ACL, someone will need to pick up the slack in the touchdown department with Nelson being responsible for 13 of them last season. On this note, Jones has always shown a knack for crossing the goal line.
Over the past four seasons, Jones has reeled in an impressive 21 touchdowns on just 52 targets inside the opponent's 20-yard line (40.4% touchdown rate). And even last season, in what was a down year for him, Jones still managed 5 touchdowns on just 13 red zone targets for a 38.5% touchdown rate.
This number easily trumps that put up by either Adams (18.2%) or the man he's replacing on the outside in Nelson (17.9%).
So while I don't expect Jones to steal away too many of Adams' targets, the few Jones will take away from him will be those critical looks within striking range of the opponent's end zone, which ultimately caps Adams' upside.
All in all, Jones' signing with the Packers may be more reflective of a need for a veteran presence on this team and injury insurance should anything happen to either Cobb or Adams.
And while he may take away some looks and opportunities from the unproven youngsters Montgomery and Janis, and may make some noise in the red zone -- in the absence of an injury to someone ahead of him on the depth charts -- he likely won't do enough to produce any noteworthy season-long numbers.