Where Will The Packers All Purpose RB Land?
By: Eric Mintzer
New England Patriots
Clearly, Tom Brady had a better 2020 than the franchise he left behind. For the first time since 2008, the New England Patriots did not make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Brady aims to win his record seventh Super Bowl. However, let’s not write off Belichek and the Patriots, just yet.
After a disappointing season, the Patriots will have the 15th overall pick in the next NFL Draft. In addition to their highest draft pick since 2008, the Patriots have $58 million in cap space, fifth most in the NFL this offseason. If the Patriots draft a quarterback to replace Cam Newton, then they can afford to pay Aaron Jones.
Last season, the Patriots ran on 51% percent of their offensive plays. Their dedication to the rush game ranked second highest behind only the Ravens. Ideally, Aaron Jones could be the center piece of Belichick’s offense to help ease a rookie quarterback into the NFL. Specifically, Jones would take the role of free agents James White and Rex Burkhead. In 2020, Jones averaged 3.7 targets per game, ranking seventh of all running backs. Yet, right behind him was James White with 3.6 targets per game. Both Jones and White were the beneficiaries of quarterbacks that were forced to check down.
With a rookie quarterback, the Patriots would be in a similar situation to last year with Cam Newton. If Belichick plans to continue a run first offense, then Jones is the perfect man for the job. Evidently, he is a proven skillful back, who’s receiving abilities would be useful to a rookie.
Realistically, Aaron Jones would be a help to all four teams in the AFC East. But, Miami emerges as an another excellent potential landing spot for Jones.
After losing their first two games, Miami went on to surprise many by winning 10 of their next 13 games. Unfortunately, they ended the season with a humiliating loss in Buffalo, which eliminated them from the postseason. Nonetheless, Brian Flores did an incredible job turning the Dolphins into a 10 win team.
Offensively, the Dolphins flipped between veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tua Tagovailoa. While both had mixed success, it appears, for now at least, that the future of Miami belongs to Tua. Surely, Miami is going to use some of their $25 million in cap space, to build around the Alabama product.
As a team, Miami ranked 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards but 29th in yards per attempt. Essentially, this means that while they were able to have a slightly below average rushing attack, it was very inefficient. Specifically, the Dolphins averaged 1.4 yards after contact per rush. As mentioned early, Jones averaged 2.9 yards after contact, which means that he is able to extend plays.
Just as a team would do with a rookie quarterback, Jones would be the perfect asset to take pressure off of Tua. Between, his ability as a receiver and rusher Jones gives the Dolphins a much needed upgrade of Myles Gaskin. In fairness, Gaskin had a very fine 2020, in the seven games he started.
Lastly, Miami is rumored to be interested in taking Heisman winner Devonta Smith with the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. If the Dolphins gain Jones and Smith, then they will have weapons offensive weapons to help Tua succeed. Based on the success of their defense in 2020, the missing piece for the Dolphins could be Aaron Jones.
In Atlanta, 2020 was a year to forget. Despite being competitive in most games, the Falcons finished in last place in the NFC South with a record of 4-12. Moving forward, Atlanta has a lot of decisions to make on offense. Specifically, what to do with an aging quarterback, Matt Ryan, an unhappy superstar receiver Julio Jones and a pair of free agent running backs.
Going into the offseason, both Todd Gurley and Brian Hill are set to be unrestricted free agents. While they combined for over 1,000 yards of rushing, the Falcons were 27th in the NFL as a team. Sadly, they failed to reach 100 yards rushing 10 times this season. Naturally, this is in part because of the pass-heavy offense the Falcons have been known to run.
Yet, similarly to New England, rumors are swirling that at the fourth overall pick the Falcons are looking to take a quarterback. With a rookie quarterback, the Falcons have options. They can let the rookie learn under Matt Ryan, or trade Ryan and let the rookie start. Either way, they will need a running back and few are better than Aaron Jones.
In 2020, Jones averaged almost 5.5 yards per attempt. In stark contrast, rushers on the Falcons’ averaged only 3.7 yards per attempt, the second worst of any team in the NFL. Clearly, Jones benefitted from a better offensive line in Green Bay than the unit in Atlanta. However, Jones still proved he is impactful beyond the line. He averaged 2.9 yards after contact per carry. In comparison, the Atlanta rushing core averaged only 1.8. Obviously, Jones being able to gain a full yard per carry helps any offense.