Those are two names you'd never think you'd see written in the same sentence going into last season. Hutson not only was the greatest player of his time but arguably the most dominant player in the history of the league. There was nothing great about Jones, other than his ability to frustrate with a great catch one minute and a confounding drop the next.
Tired of "wasting" his time and ability, as he put it, Jones had the type of breakout season you don't typically see from a player in his sixth season. He caught practically everything thrown his way, finishing with 64 receptions for 784 yards with a stunning 14 touchdowns.
Jones, whose previous career high was seven touchdowns, led the NFL in receiving touchdowns and trailed only Arian Foster in total touchdowns. Only Sterling Sharpe (18, 1994), Hutson (17, 1942) and Jordy Nelson (15, 2011) had more receiving touchdowns in Packers history.
With two touchdown catches in consecutive games against New Orleans, Indianapolis and Houston, Jones joined Hutson as the only players in Packers history to accomplish that feat. And Jones was the first Packers receiver since Billy Howton in 1956 to have seven touchdown catches in the first six games.
"Confidence comes with (quarterback Aaron Rodgers) finding me and getting me the ball and making plays," Jones said for a Packer Report Magazine cover story last year. "I know I'm ready. When I take the field, whether I get one ball or I get 10 balls, if I get that one ball, it's going to be a big play. That's where I'm at. We have so many weapons on this team, so my focus is don't let one ball slip away. Yeah, you're never going to go through a season being perfect on dropping the ball — everyone's going to drop one — but make the most of your chances. I'm extremely focused. In years past, I've never talked to myself as much I'm doing during the game, never watched as much film as I watch now, never been as prepared as I am now. It helps with (position coach Edgar Bennett), nothing satisfies E.B. He's constantly on me, pushing me, driving me. That helps me stay focused and stay hungry."
Through all the drops — Jones had the second-highest drop rate among receivers from 2009 through 2011, according to ProFootballFocus.com — Rodgers never lost his belief. In fact, it was Rodgers who publicly went to bat for Jones during the abbreviated free-agent period following the 2011 lockout. Jones flirted with Minnesota but came back to Green Bay with a modest three-year, $9.6 million deal.
"The talent," Rodgers explained. "I feel like I saw a good picture of the potential inside of him that maybe even he didn't see yet. I think he's a guy that, more than some other guys, just feeds off of that confidence. I think his ceiling is and was higher that maybe a lot of people — even himself — thought it was. For him, it was always about doing it the right way. Once he learned to do it the right way all the time, then he got that confidence and started making the plays that we all knew he was capable of making."
Jones is entering the final season of that modest contract. Right about the time free agency starts next year, Jones will turn 30. This makes this season a big one for Jones personally and for the team, which will be leaning heavily on the its three established receivers.
"Stay hungry. That's the only goal I have right now," Jones said last month. "I've never relaxed no matter how many touchdowns I get, how many yards I get. I want to stay hungry. Stay on the grind and continue to improve every year."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.