If you glanced at a list of the best running backs in the NFL today, nearly every player you’ll see was a 4 or 5-star recruit coming out of high school with numerous high-level offers. Here’s a list of what most people would consider to be the best running backs in the league. I included how big of a recruit each player was, where they went to school, the number of power-5 offers they had, and which round they were drafted in the NFL.
Derrick Henry, 5-star, Alabama, 16 power-5 offers, 2nd round draft pick
Christian McCaffrey, 4-star, Stanford, 20 power-5 offers, 1st round draft pick
Nick Chubb, 4-star, Georgia, 23 power-5 offers, 2nd round draft pick
Dalvin Cook, 4-star, Florida State, 10 power-5 offers, 2nd round draft pick
Ezekiel Elliot, 4-star, Ohio State, 22 power-5 offers, 1st round draft pick
Saquon Barkley, 4-star, Penn State, 8 power-5 offers, 1st round draft pick
Alvin Kamara, 4-star, Alabama, 13 power-5 offers, 3rd round draft pick
You may notice a trend. These guys were all highly recruited, went to big schools, and were highly drafted into the league. You might also notice one elite-level running back missing from this list. That would be Aaron Jones. Jones was just a 3-star recruit coming out of high school and didn’t have any power-5 offers. In his draft year of 2017, he didn’t hear his name called until the 5th round, where he was selected by the Green Bay Packers at pick number 182. Here’s a timeline of Jones’ career and a look at how he became a top-tier NFL running back.
Aaron Jones was born in Savannah, Georgia, but their family moved several times while he was young. They eventually settled in El Paso, Texas. Jones went to Burges High School, where he first shined on the basketball court, averaging 18 points per game on 61% shooting over his 4-year varsity career. He also added 6.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and nearly 3 steals per game. On the gridiron, Jones played defensive back his entire 3-year varsity career, totaling 268 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, and 16 pass breakups. He only played on the offensive side of the ball during his sophomore and junior seasons. Jones totaled 1,479 rushing yards, 915 receiving yards, and 26 touchdowns.
Despite his staggering 10.6 yards per carry at Burges, Aaron Jones received just two division 1 offers (New Mexico State, Texas El-Paso). He decided to stay in his hometown, committing to UTEP along with his twin brother Alvin Jones, who nearly joined Aaron in Green Bay in 2020.
Before we talk about Aaron Jones’ remarkable football career at UTEP, here’s a little fun fact:
UTEP’s basketball team suffered several injuries before the 2013-14 season, so both he and his brother Alvin were added to the roster during their freshman seasons.
Despite being undersized at 5-9, 175 pounds coming out of high school, Aaron Jones was the premier running back in the Miners offense his freshman season. It was his sophomore year of 2014, however, when he really took off. In year two, Jones ran for 1,321 yards on 5.5 yards per carry. He also added nearly 300 yards receiving and 14 total touchdowns in 12 games, leading UTEP to their first winning season in 9 years. After missing most of his junior year with an injury in 2015, Aaron Jones bounced back and had a historic 2016 season.
In his final season at UTEP, Aaron Jones averaged an eye-popping 7.7 yards per carry, went for over 2,000 scrimmage yards, and scored 20 touchdowns. Jones also shattered UTEP’s all-time rushing record by over 500 yards. An impressive feat, but even more impressive considering he missed nearly the entire 2015 season. He saved his best game for last, rushing for 301 yards and four touchdowns against North Texas in his final game with the Miners. Aaron Jones finished his outstanding college career with 4,760 scrimmage yards and 40 total touchdowns. Not too shabby for a guy with only two division 1 offers coming out of high school.
If not for his phenomenal final season at UTEP, Aaron Jones may not have heard his name called in the 2017 NFL draft. In the 5th round, the Green Bay Packers drafted the El Paso native, a decision that has paid off substantially. There were 19 running backs selected ahead of him in that draft class. Today, however, Aaron Jones is widely considered as one of the best running backs in the NFL. Through 4-plus years in the league, he’s averaging over 5 yards per carry and already has two seasons in which he surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. Since 2019, Jones is 5th in the league in rushing yards, 6th in scrimmage yards, 3rd in rushing touchdowns, and 2nd in total touchdowns (rushing and receiving). He’s been an absolute machine for a Packers franchise that certainly doesn’t regret their 2017 5th round selection.
In the summer of 2021, Aaron Jones was rewarded with a 4 year, $48 million contract to stay in Green Bay. He went from being a 3-star recruit with two division 1 offers to a 5th round pick in the NFL to now being one of the highest-paid and most successful running backs in the league. That shows just how resilient and hard-working Aaron Jones is, not to mention his elite skill set. I’m expecting many more big things to come in his already illustrious career.
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