Packers add RB depth with UTEP's Aaron Jones

Ryan Wood
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UTEP running back Aaron Jones steams to the goal line after breaking free in the first half against North Texas.

GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones sent the text immediately. The Green Bay Packers had just drafted his friend, BYU running back Jamaal Williams, in the fourth round Saturday.

As he waited for his phone to ring, Jones sent his congratulations.

Williams wasn’t hard to reach. They share an agent, Leigh Steinberg. So not long after putting his phone away, he got a text back.

“He told me I was next to get drafted,” Jones said.

That turned out to be prescient.

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One round after drafting Williams with the 134th pick in the fourth round, the Packers doubled down at running back and drafted Jones with the 182nd pick in the fifth round. Thus completes their running back makeover, and unites two friends who have followed each other through the pre-draft process since first meeting at the Senior Bowl.

Jones, at 5-foot-9½ and 208 pounds, is smaller than Williams’ 6-foot, 212-pound stature. He ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, faster than Williams’ 4.59. The Packers hope their different styles complement in their backfield, providing different dimensions to the offense.

“I feel like he has more bigger-back characteristics,” Jones said. “I have smaller-back characteristics. I’m a little bit faster than he is. He’s bigger than me, of course. And I can catch the ball out of the backfield.

“So a one-two punch. Or a three-headed monster, four-headed monster, with the backs we have up there.”

The two rookies will join third-year Ty Montgomery in the Packers backfield, as well as veteran Christine Michael. Behind Montgomery, it could be three tailbacks competing for two spots. The Packers also will keep at least one fullback on their roster, Aaron Ripkowski.

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Jones’ style as a running back is similar to Montgomery's. Like Montgomery, he started his career as a receiver, his high school position. Jones’ receiving ability showed in college, where the four-year junior caught 71 passes for 646 yards and seven touchdowns in his career.

Jones said he “did it all” in UTEP’s receiving game — checkdowns, screens, even vertical routes. Early in his career, he said, the Miners even lined him up in the slot.

The Packers liked Jones’ versatility as a receiver, and his home-run threat as a runner.

“If you see Aaron’s tape,” director of football operations Eliot Wolf said, “Aaron’s really fast. I think he ran a 4.51, but that was a little surprising. We thought he played faster than that. He’s a guy that consistently can beat the angle of the safety, a lot of long runs for UTEP.”

Jones tore a ligament in his left ankle in practice two games into the 2015 season. It was a tough blow after rushing for 1,321 yards in his sophomore season. He received a medical redshirt from the NCAA and spent a year plotting his return.

In 2016, Jones came back even better. He rushed for 1,773 yards and 17 touchdowns last fall, with a 7.7-yard average that shows how much he dominated Conference USA defenses. But Jones didn’t just beat up on small schools. He rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Texas, averaging 6.8 yards per rush.

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In the second quarter, Jones broke off a 51-yard touchdown. Another long run.

“I actually felt like it bettered me,” Jones said of his season-ending injury in 2015. “I was able to get in the weight room and get bigger, stronger, faster. It showed this season when I was able to step back on the field. I gave it my all, my everything. And it definitely paid off.

“Everything happens for a reason. Me being injured, it happened for a reason. I was able to better myself.”

This happened for a reason too: Jones and Williams, drafted by the same team. It will provide some familiarity during his rookie season, but that’s not all.

Not long after hanging up with the Packers, Jones thought about his football journey. The injury. The limited recruiting out of high school. The fact basketball once was his preferred sport.

Then he thought about Pop Warner. The first football team he ever joined. Jones was 5 years old when he started playing the game.

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That team’s name?

“The Packers,” Jones said. “That’s pretty cool. I started out my football career with them, and I get to start out my NFL career with the Packers. I thought that was pretty cool.”

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