New Vikings Star Aaron Jones and the Asterisk

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After the 2023 Minnesota Vikings played their final game, an offseason with many uncertainties began. Two of the team’s most essential players, Danielle Hunter and Kirk Cousins, were scheduled to enter free agency. Longtime star defender Harrison Smith contemplated retirement, while Brian Flores was universally viewed as a head coaching candidate.

New Vikings Star Aaron Jones and the Asterisk

New Vikings Star Aaron Jones And the Asterisk
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Just a few months later, those four items were resolved one way or another. Smith and Flores stayed while Cousins and Hunter departed.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was asked to replace some players, especially on defense. By acquiring free agents Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel, he closed the gaps on the edges; linebacker Blake Cashman will be Jordan Hicks’ replacement.

The offense has mainly stayed the same. Besides Cousins, running back Alexander Mattison is no longer on the team because he was cut, and K.J. Osborn signed with the Patriots as a free agent. Dalton Risner hasn’t found a new home yet.

Different Story
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After a few seasons with an underwhelming running attack, the offense needed an infusion of running talent. The Packers parted ways with veteran Aaron Jones following the signing of star rusher Josh Jacobs, and without any hesitation, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed the former division rival.

Jones was part of the stacked rookie class in 2017, which featured several franchise running backs, including Dalvin Cook, the former focal point of Minnesota’s offense. Since that draft, Jones ranks seventh among running backs in the NFL in scrimmage yards and sixth in touchdowns.

Unlike Cook, who has slowed down in recent years, Jones is still going strong. Last season, Jones recorded 656 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. As a good receiver, he also caught 30 passes for 233 yards and another score. A hamstring injury and a sprained MCL cost him six games. The Packers lowered his workload to keep him healthy and fresh for the season’s final stretch, and it worked.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) tosses the ball in the stands after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter of the wild card playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, January 14, 2024, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

In the two playoff matchups, Jones racked up 247 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns, dominating Dallas’ scary ground defense. His five consecutive contests with at least 100 rushing yards are a Packers franchise record. The fact that he ended the season at his best is a good sign.

He should be a massive upgrade over Mattison, as he is simply the more explosive player. His track record and the recent production speak for themselves. Jones also flourishes as a zone runner, which is the same style of offense Kevin O’Connell features.

But there is one problem. His list of injuries is long and extensive. He has suffered five MCL sprains in his NFL career and various thigh, hamstring, and calf injuries. The good news is that he hasn’t missed too much time throughout the years. He played 12 games in each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons and logged all 16 contests in 2019. In the following 2020 campaign, the former UTEP standout appeared in 14 games, 15 in 2021, 17 in 2022, and the previously mentioned 11 last year. In addition to those games, he suited up seven times in the postseason.

Running Back
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To turn those numbers around, Jones missed six games in 2023 and played all 17 in 2022. In 2021, he missed one game and was rested in another because Green Bay had locked up their playoff berth. That makes a total of a nine-game absence in the last five seasons.

However, older players are more susceptible to injuries, and Jones is 29, almost ancient for a runner nowadays. He has been excellent in 2023 when healthy, so the risk is worth it, mainly because he is signed to a one-year deal worth average starter money. There won’t be long-term implications whether he is performing well or not, but there is still a risk. Jones could fall off a cliff and lose a step, and he could be hurt again and, for the first time in his career, miss an extensive number of games.

Help Seems
Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) eyes the goal line on a touchdown run in the first quarter of a Week 15 NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.

The former rival will form the new tandem with late-season star Ty Chandler, who showed promise. In addition to that, the Vikes could opt to spend a draft pick for a running back in the fourth consecutive draft.

In 2023, the Vikings ranked 29th in rushing yards and last in rushing touchdowns, so betting on an accomplished rusher is understandable. Vikings fans must hope he is the one missing piece because the Vikings have not made many other offensive changes that could spark the terrible rushing game.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt