You probably haven’t heard of Aaron Jones. The former UTEP Miner declared for the draft on New Year’s Eve to little fanfare (Rotoworld were surprised by his decision), and has gotten almost no coverage so far in a much talked-about RB class. But Jones may be the best 2017 draft prospect you have never heard of – until now.
Impressive Performance, Incredible Efficiency
Although he showed some promise in his true sophomore season (running for 1321 yards and 11 TDs), Jones’ 2016 performance as a redshirt junior was something special. He finished the season with 1773 rushing yards on 229 attempts, adding 233 receiving yards and scoring 20 TDs. While finishing fourth in the nation for rushing yards is something to be proud of, Jones also sneaked into a special group who have amassed 2000 yards from scrimmage in a season (one of only 42 to achieve this since 2006).
Here is the table of every player to reach that milestone in the last 10 seasons. For each, I’ve included the percent of total offensive yardage and touchdowns the player accounted for, as well as the ratio of those percentages relative to the percentage of team touches the player accounted for.1
Jones may be towards the bottom of this list in terms of total yards, but his per-play efficiency metrics are off the charts.2 Among this list of highly-productive backs over the past 10 seasons, he was in the top eight of each efficiency metric.
|Yards per Play||Team Yards %||Team Yards Efficiency||Team TD %||Team TD Efficiency||College Dominator %|
Not only did Jones reach 2000 scrimmage yards on less plays than anyone else, but he did so carrying his offense. He performed 30 percent better per play than average for his team – and a ridiculous 54 percent better than the average for the rest of the Miners offense. Only three other players on the list out-performed their team’s per-play average by more than 15 percent (Tevin Coleman, Chad Hall and Kerwynn Williams), and only one other was better than 25 percent (Coleman).
Jones is one of only four from the group who averaged over 7 yards per play, accounted for at least 40 percent of his team’s yards and TDs, and had a team yards efficiency over 1.1 (marks Jones himself eclipsed by a healthy margin).
The biggest explanation for Jones’ remarkable efficiency was his big-play ability. Jones was the only FBS player with double-digit rushing touchdowns on plays that began outside the red zone, leading the nation with 12 such scores. A whopping 9 of the 12 came on runs of 40-plus yards.
There is still much to learn in the pre-draft process. Jones is listed at just 5 feet 10 inches, 205 pounds by Rotoworld; where he weighs in and how he tests athletically at the combine will go a long way toward completing the picture of the type of back he profiles as. The combine will also give Jones an opportunity to answer questions about his arrest in March for DWI.
It’s also worth considering that Jones may look awesome because the rest of the UTEP offense is truly awful (with one winning season since 2005, that’s very much a possibility). But even if that were the case, Aaron Jones’ ability to carry an offense and put up elite production with seemingly little support or surrounding talent means he is a name to watch over the coming months. It’s not often you get the chance to draft someone who can put up 2000 yards on under 300 touches while performing more than 50 percent better than the rest of his team.