In a mild surprise, to me at least, the Packers signed Aaron Jones yesterday to a four-year, $48 million contract. It's surprising only in that Green Bay protect Jones from leaving with the franchise tag, making it seem he'd reach the open market. It's not surprising in terms of what Jones has earned over the past few seasons.
A former fifth-round pick, Jones quickly proved to be the better player than fourth-rounder Jamaal Williams, who we can now say with some certainty won't be back in Green Bay. Williams has averaged exactly 4.0 yards per attempt over his four seasons; Jones in those same years is at 5.2 per carry; up at 5.5 in three of those years. Over the past two years, he's one of the league's most productive running backs, up there with a handful of guys who are generally selected a round earlier in fantasy leagues.
Since the start of the 2019 season, only four running backs have more total yards than Jones (and he's within 77 yards of two of those players). Only one has more touchdowns.
Table shows the top 40 running backs in total yards the last two seasons. Players headed for free agency are in italics -- that's a third of the list.
|RUNNING BACKS, TOTAL YARDS AND TDS (2019-2020)|
|Derrick Henry, Tenn.||31||3567||320||35||3887|
|Dalvin Cook, Minn.||28||2692||880||30||3572|
|Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.||31||2336||758||22||3094|
|Alvin Kamara, N.O.||29||1729||1289||27||3018|
|Aaron Jones, G.B.||30||2188||829||30||3017|
|Nick Chubb, Clev.||28||2561||428||20||2989|
|Christian McCaffrey, Car.||19||1612||1154||25||2766|
|Josh Jacobs, L.V.||28||2215||404||19||2619|
|David Montgomery, Chi.||31||1959||623||17||2582|
|Austin Ekeler, LAC||26||1087||1396||14||2483|
|Chris Carson, Sea.||27||1911||553||18||2464|
|Miles Sanders, Phil.||28||1685||706||12||2391|
|Leonard Fournette, Jax.-T.B.||28||1519||755||9||2274|
|Kenyan Drake, Ariz.||29||1772||482||18||2254|
|Ronald Jones, T.B.||30||1702||474||14||2176|
|Melvin Gordon, LAC-Den.||27||1598||454||19||2052|
|Joe Mixon, Cin.||22||1565||425||12||1990|
|Devin Singletary, Buff.||28||1462||463||6||1925|
|Todd Gurley, LAR-Atl.||30||1535||371||23||1906|
|Adrian Peterson, Wash.-Det.||31||1502||243||12||1745|
|Phillip Lindsay, Den.||27||1513||224||8||1737|
|David Johnson, Ariz.-Hou.||25||1036||684||14||1720|
|LeVeon Bell, NYJ-K.C.||26||1117||599||6||1716|
|Latavius Murray, N.O.||31||1293||411||11||1704|
|James Conner, Pitt.||23||1185||466||13||1651|
|Raheem Mostert, S.F.||24||1293||336||13||1629|
|Mark Ingram, Balt.||26||1317||297||17||1614|
|Kareem Hunt, Clev.||24||1020||589||14||1609|
|Gus Edwards, Balt.||32||1434||174||8||1608|
|Sony Michel, N.E.||25||1361||208||9||1569|
|Carlos Hyde, Hou.-Sea.||26||1426||135||10||1561|
|Saquon Barkley, NYG||15||1037||498||8||1535|
|Jonathan Taylor, Ind.||15||1169||299||12||1468|
|Jamaal Williams, G.B.||28||965||489||9||1454|
|Frank Gore, Buf.-NYJ||31||1252||189||4||1441|
|James Robinson, Jac.||14||1070||344||10||1414|
|James White, N.E.||29||384||1020||9||1404|
|J.D. McKissic, Det.-Wash.||32||570||822||4||1392|
|Nyheim Hines, Ind.||32||579||802||11||1381|
|Duke Johnson, Hou.||27||645||659||7||1304|
With Jones off the market, the top free agent (my opinion) is Chris Carson. He's been the 11th-most productive back the last two years. The other three best backs are probably Raheem Mostert, Kenyan Drake and James Conner. In three of the four cases, injuries are part of why they're available -- all but Drake have missed 5-9 games the last two seasons -- which might keep their price down. But in general they've been very productive when on the field. Drake is an interesting case. Will teams see the workhorse he was in Arizona in 2019, or the guy who didn't look quite as good as Chase Edmonds for a lot of 2020?
The Packers may have some interest in bringing back Williams as a passing-downs complement, but it's unlikely -- he should get more money and a better chance at a larger role elsewhere. Green Bay has AJ Dillon as its No. 2, but Dillon looks like somebody who won't be usable if Jones is healthy. He'll get some change-of-pace work and maybe the occasional short-yardage situation to reduce pounding of Jones, but I think that's about it. If you drafted him already in a best-ball league, you're in need of a Jones injury for that investment to pay off.