The Green Bay Packers needed a running back.
Ted Thompson picked three. One of them didn’t fit Thompson’s history.
Thompson had selected seven running backs over his first 12 drafts. Brandon Jackson was the first, measuring 5-foot-9 7/8. That was the shortest running back taken by Thompson.
That made last weekend’s second addition to the backfield, fifth-rounder UTEP’s Aaron Jones, a trend-breaking selection. Jones measured 5-foot-9 1/2 at the Scouting Combine. That stands in stark contrast — pun intended — to the team’s recent rushing leaders. Converted receiver Ty Montgomery, last year’s leading rusher, stands 5-11 7/8. Eddie Lacy, the leading rusher the previous three seasons, stands 5-11. Alex Green, 2012’s leading rusher, is 6-foot. James Starks, 2011’s leading rusher, is 6-2 1/8. Jackson led the team in 2010. Ryan Grant, the top rusher from 2007 through 2009, is 6-1 1/8. It also stands in contrast to this year’s other running back picks, fourth-rounder Jamaal Williams (6-0 3/8) and seventh-rounder Devante Mays (5-10 3/8).
From Green Bay’s perspective, why did Jones stand tall where so many other shorter backs over the years had fallen, well, short?
“Just his toughness and his durability and his production,” Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf said. “He was a guy that didn’t run small. And he’s 210 pounds so the height was easier to overlook.”
Jones had an exceptional career. Jones, who played his high school ball in El Paso, stayed home and set UTEP’s career rushing record with 4,114 yards — despite missing all but two games of the 2015 season with an injured ankle. He posted 17 100-yard games, five 200-yard games, six 100-yard halves and 4,760 all-purpose yards. In 2016, he set single-season school records with 1,773 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, including 301 yards against North Texas — a Conference USA record. He averaged a sizzling 7.7 yards per carry and added 28 receptions.
“He’s powerful but, when you look at him, you wouldn’t think he’s as powerful as he is,” said Nathan Poss, UTEP’s running backs coach and director of football operations. “He’s as solid as a rock but he’s an elusive guy. I think he’s got great vision. He’ll find a hole. When someone else can’t find it, he finds holes. He has that burst.”
Jones, who arrived at UTEP tipping the scales at 165 pounds, is an excellent athlete. His 4.56-second clocking in the 40-yard dash at the Combine doesn’t tell the whole story. When three members of the basketball team were dismissed from the program in January 2014, Jones and his twin brother, Alvin, joined the squad. Aaron Jones averaged 5.1 minutes per game in 10 games.
“The basketball team didn’t have enough to practice, so they came out the last two months to help Tim Floyd and the basketball team,” Poss said. “Aaron ended up playing quite a bit of point guard for them. That’s uncommon — someone that can dribble and handle Division I basketball after playing Division I football, too.”
Jones came up big in a win at Old Dominion, playing 18 minutes and contributing three assists.
“It was definitely fun,” Jones said during Saturday’s conference call. “Basketball, I played all growing up. I actually took basketball more serious than I did football before I got to college, but it was definitely fun. It was a great experience. I played two sports, and not too many athletes can say there were a two-sport athlete.”
Jones said that time on the hardwood paid off on the gridiorn. On 256 total touches last season, Jones forced a total of 47 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. One of PFF’s analytical stats is called Elusive Rating, which is based on missed tackles and yards after contact. Jones ranked 19th in the draft class in Elusive Rating, just behind Christian McCaffrey, who went No. 8 overall to Carolina. Jones averaged 3.98 yards after contact, which ranked fourth in the draft class.
Said Poss simply, “He’s a pretty special talent.”
No matter how tall.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.