The Green Bay Packers are entering a new offensive era in 2023 with the franchise's all-time leader in passing touchdowns, four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers, now a New York Jet, making way for 24-year-old former first-round pick Jordan Love. However, another Pro Bowl Aaron -- running back Aaron Jones -- happily remains with the Green and Gold during this time of transition, calling Green Bay a " " back in April when he re-did his contract to provide more cap space.
Jones has done much more than just take up space in the Lambeau Field locker room this offseason; he's "carried the G" by taking up the mantle of being a "vocal leader" on the Packers offense, making multiple trips out to California to build chemistry with Love. The first couple trips were solo journeys, but the most recent one last weekend to Santa Ana involved just about every wide receiver and tight end on the Green Bay roster. Love revealed at a press conference in May that Jones, emphasizing the importance of getting on the same page early in the offseason. That said, Jones went out of his way to credit Love for the most recent offensive skill position group workout.
"Jordan [Love] is a true leader," Jones told CBS Sports. "He wanted to get that work in, and he wants everyone around him to get better as well. So, we made it a thing after I went out there where we talked about getting some of the guys out there by sending a text. Whoever can make it can make it. If people can't, that's ok. The message was 'let's get together before we all go back. Let's get some reps in, so when we get back there's no hiccups. We're right there, we're ready to go. We're all on the same page. It was Jordan and me's idea, but Jordan initiated the text message."
For years, Jones has performed as one of the NFL's, and that continued in 2022, as he amassed a career-high 1,121 rushing yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry -- the second-most in the entire league among running backs. That high-level efficiency is business as usual for Jones, since 2022 marked the fourth time in six career seasons that he has averaged more than five yards per rush.
What's different for Jones now in Green Bay, at 28 years old, is he's positioned to help lead the growth of his offensive skill position teammates, just about all of whom are younger than him:
- 2023 second-round pick tight end Luke Musgrave (22 years old)
- 2023 third-round pick tight end Tucker Kraft (22 years old)
- 2023 second-round pick wide receiver Jayden Reed (23 years old)
- 2022 fourth-round pick wide receiver Romeo Doubs (23 years old)
- 2020 first-round pick quarterback Jordan Love (24 years old)
- 2022 second-round pick wide receiver Christian Watson (24 years old)
- 2020 second-round pick running back AJ Dillon (25 years old)
- 2022 seventh-round pick wide receiver Samori Toure (25 years old)
That's a dramatic age shift in comparison to the veteran-laden groups that were present during Jones' first six NFL seasons with Rodgers as his starting quarterback.
"I've had to become a little bit more vocal," Jones said. "We have a very, very young team. I was more of a lead-by-example guy, but now I've had to become more vocal because we don't have those vets that we have had like the Randall Cobb's, Aaron Rodgers' and Marcedes Lewis' on the offensive side of the ball. I have to [become more vocal]. It's only right. Those guys did it for me, instilled the confidence and so many other things in me, so it's only right that I give it back to these young guys."
To remain valuable as a running back who isn't on a rookie deal is Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas Raiders), Saquon Barkley (New York Giants) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys) -- at the July 17 deadline. The way Jones position's league-wide market value has declined over the last several seasons in comparison to a for several position groups has him baffled considering the on-field responsibilities running backs carry on their shoulders.after all three Pro Bowl running backs who were franchise-tagged --
"It's crazy to me because running backs bring so much value," Jones said. "You got to be able to protect and have to pass protect just like an offensive lineman. You have to know all the offensive line calls up front, who they're working to. You have to run the ball as well with 11 guys trying to hit you. You make it hard to take you off the field, so you're involved in the passing game. You're doing just as much as anyone else except for the quarterback and maybe the center [on offense]. I really don't understand how the position got devalued, but I hope our value comes back because if you look at it, running backs make a big difference in the game. Whether it's protecting the quarterback -- being that sixth-man in protection -- running the ball, or taking pressure off of the quarterback [in the passing game]."
Naturally, Jones has put a significant focus for his offseason work into his route-running and pass-catching for a number of reasons. One is he could have a higher volume as a pass-catcher with the many other young pass-catchers getting adjusted to their NFL roles. Another is he's looking to build upon his career-high 59 catches that went for 395 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season. Jones averaged 6.7 yards per reception in 2022, the second-lowest rate of his career, so he made sure to expand the depth of his route tree when working with Love out on the West Coast.
"I'm always trying to evolve my game in that area [as a receiver]," Jones said. "The more you can do, it makes it harder for them to take you off the field. Not just because we have the young receivers, but I'm just trying to stay on my game and expand my route tree. Then, I don't have to come off the field. They can just move me around the formation, and I know the route concepts, I know how to run them. I know the coverages. It's been some work getting involved [in the passing game] the last three to four years. Each year, I think I get more and more involved in the passing game."
There may be a shift in terms of the primary offensive formations used in Green Bay going forward with an offense centered around Love's abilities as well as what Jones, whose career 5.1 yards per carry ranks as tied for the fourth-most in the Super Bowl Era, and fellow back AJ Dillion can provide. During Rodgers' return to peak performance in his back-to-back MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021, the Packers leaned into lining up under center 40.5% of the time, the 10th-highest rate in the NFL. Looking more like head coach Matt LaFleur's offense -- with the head coach calling the team's offensive plays and Rodgers for the most part sticking to them -- led to an incredible increase in offensive efficiency.
Packers offensive rankings under Matt LaFleur since 2019
Red Zone TD Pct
Under Center Rate
|Motion Rate||41.9% (12th)||51.3% (7th)||56.7% (8th)|
*Aaron Rodgers won back-to-back NFL MVPs
However, Rodgers and the Packers simultaneously struggled when they went away from the offense's foundational staples of going under center and utilizing play-action. With the 2022 season having both the lowest under center (31.1%) and play-action (15.2%) rates of LaFleur's four-season tenure in Green Bay, the Packers went 8-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time under their current head coach. A stark contrast to the Packers' three years in a row with 13-win seasons -- the only such streak in NFL history -- Rodgers also had the worst single-season passer rating of his career in 2022 (91.1) after he and the team shifted to the way he preferred to play: more shotgun and more route progressions based on his ability to read the field, elements of former head coach Mike McCarthy's West Coast offense.
A return to the under-center foundation in 2023 seems likely given LaFleur's known desire for offensive balance and to ease Love into the role of NFL starting quarterback by having the scheme simplify his workload before and after the snap.
"I'm not sure," Jones said when asked if the Packers will play more under-center football in 2023. "I know Matt [LaFleur] likes to be balanced and make a lot of things look the same, so you can't get a read [on what we're doing] using a lot of motion for eye candy to get people out of their gaps. I don't know how much we'll be under center or in the gun, but I don't expect our scheme to change much. We've always had the gun plays in, and we've always had the under-center plays in. It just depends on what they're calling."
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
New outside expectations, same internal standard
The offense's core principles going forward are just one of the many things Jones and the Packers will be digging into when veterans report for training camp at Lambeau Field on July 25. The Pro Bowler will also be looking to squeeze in some work on the side on his cornhole bag tossing technique since he qualified for the Johnsonville SuperHole IV Cornhole Championship in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on Friday, August 4. It's a pro-am philanthropic event where celebrities are paired up with professional corn hole players in pursuit of a world title. Jones, representing his "A&A All The Way" foundation, and his partner, Yetty Irwan, won one of the preliminary events in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after he signed on following a suggestion from one of his good friends, Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Dion Dawkins.
In order to participate, Jones will need to be able to get out to South Carolina on Aug. 4, a Packers training camp off day, and then promptly return to Lambeau Field for the team's Family Night festivities on Aug. 5. The chance to be a world champion is alluring for the two-time NFC runner-up.
"If it's possible for me to make it, I would love to be there since it's for charity," Jones said. "It's also the big one, the world championships. Hopefully, it lines up with our [the Packers] scheduling and allows me to make it. I have a cornhole trophy man. I don't have an NFL trophy. I would love to be a part of it."
While talking about titles, Jones acknowledged the Packers aren't the clear-cut favorite in the NFC North for the first time in the LaFleur era, but he and the team are embracing the label as genuine underdogs. Not only is Green Bay an underdog, but it currently has the longest odds (+420) to win the NFC North in 2023. It's a new phenomenon, seeing the Green and Gold with lower faith from Vegas than the Chicago Bears (+400) to win the division. Especially after their Windy City rivals earned the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft following a 3-14 season in 2022. The reigning division champion Minnesota Vikings have +300 odds, while the Detroit Lions, who last won a division title in 1993 when the teams were members of the NFC Central, are the favorites at +120 odds.
"We probably knew we weren't going to be picked to win the division or picked to win too many games, so it's an underdog mentality that you have to fine-tune," Jones said. "We know we just have to depend on each other and once we get the ball rolling, all those people who doubted us and whatever it may be, they can stay right where they're at. We'll keep continuing to do what we do. Since 2019, we had the [divisional] bullseye on our back. It'll be a little different, but it might be better because no one is expecting anything from us."
When Jones mentioned the doubters staying right where they are, a wry smile broke across his face in the same slick way he dodges and darts through openings at the line of scrimmage. Jones, Love and the rest of the Green Bay offense will be insulated by one of the best offensive lines in football: the Packers front five allowed a quarterback pressure on 26.6% of dropbacks in 2022, the second-lowest rate in the NFL. Their defense is also full of talent with eight former first-round picks and three Pro Bowlers or All-Pros: defensive tackle Kenny Clark, linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and cornerback Jaire Alexander. Inside of their building on 1265 Lombardi Avenue, Jones believes the Packers have just as much of a chance to contend for a division title and a playoff spot as prior LaFleur era years.
"One hundred percent, we have all the pieces we need," Jones said. "We just have to play complimentary football in all three phases [offense, defense and special teams]. We have all the guys we need in this locker room, people who are serious about their craft and want to get better, want to win. I'm excited for what this year has in store."