The Green Bay Packers will be without Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones for a few games after he injured his right knee on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. What do we know about the injury, and what does it all mean for the Packers moving forward? Let’s break it all down here, question by question.
What is the injury?
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Jones has a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee, according to several reports. This is the third time Jones has sprained the MCL in his right knee. According to the University of Michigan Health, the MCL is a stabilizing ligament that keeps a person’s knee from “bending inward.” Spraining the ligament is usually painful but can be treated with rest and rehab.
What is his return timeline?
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, an MRI completed Monday revealed a “mild” sprain of the MCL, giving Jones a return timeline of 1-2 weeks. The Packers play the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams over the next two weeks, but with the bye in Week 13, the Packers might be tempted to keep Jones out so his knee has three full weeks to recover. Almost certainly, Jones will miss this week’s game against the Vikings. If the knee responds well and he hits the front end of the recovery timeline, it’s possible Jones could practice in some capacity next week and play against the Rams on Nov. 28.
Who benefits from his absence?
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A.J. Dillon. The backup running back has been taking on more and more of a role as the complementary player to Jones, and now he’ll be the featured running back in the offense. Over the last three games, Dillon has averaged 15 carries and almost 100 total yards per game. With Jones out, Dillon could easily average 20 or more touches as the No. 1 running back. Coach Matt LaFleur said he had no reservations about Dillon’s ability to be a workhorse runner in the offense. On Sunday, Dillon turned 23 touches (21 rushes, two catches) into 128 total yards (66 rushing, 62 receiving) and two scores (both in the fourth quarter). It’s now his time to shine.
Who becomes the new backup running back?
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Patrick Taylor. The Packers signed Taylor from the practice squad on Nov. 4 to take the place of rookie Kylin Hill, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. In his first NFL action on Sunday, Taylor carried two times for seven yards on Sunday against the Seahawks, and coach Matt LaFleur thought he ran hard and decisively. He is an undrafted free agent from Memphis in 2020 who missed his rookie season while recovering from a foot injury. During this preseason, Taylor led the Packers in rushing attempts and yards.
Will Jones go on injured reserve?
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Most likely not, given the recovery timeline. If the Packers placed Jones on injured reserve, he would need to miss three full games (not just weeks), meaning he’d miss games against the Vikings and Rams before the bye and a game against the Bears after the bye. By keeping him on the active roster, Jones would have the opportunity to return sooner, most likely against the Rams if the knee responds well or against the Bears after the knee has three full weeks to recover.
Will the Packers make a roster move at running back?
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Most likely. Dillon and Taylor are the only two healthy running backs on the 53-man roster now. The Packers recently signed Ryquell Armstead to the practice squad, providing one option for promotion. He was a fifth-round pick of the Jaguars in 2019 who has 49 career touches in the NFL. If the Packers are comfortable with Dillon and Taylor as the new 1-2 punch, promoting Armstead from the practice squad would be the easy short-term fix to the current roster problem. An outside addition appears unlikely given the short nature of Jones’ expected recovery, although adding another running back to the practice squad might make sense.
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This appears to be a best-case outcome for the Packers after Jones appeared in pain and distress on the field and on the sideline following his injury evaluation on Sunday. Losing a dynamic playmaker like Jones for the season would have been crippling to a Packers offense that is still finding its way after 10 games. With Jones out for only 1-2 weeks, the Packers can lean on Dillon as the lead back in a few games and let Jones get his knee back to 100 percent for the stretch run. The offense will need others to step up and take on a playmaking role in place of Jones, especially in the quick passing game, but this doesn’t need to be a team-altering absence. In fact, Dillon now has a terrific opportunity to establish his identity in the offense over key games against the Vikings and Rams.