Packers Annual Checkup: WR James Jones

Today is the 25th day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Click here for all of Paul’s previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul’s in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:

Today: WR James Jones
Friday, Feb. 22: FB John Kuhn
Saturday, Feb. 23: G T.J. Lang

Sunday, Feb. 24: LB Jamari Lattimore
Monday, Feb. 25: LB Terrell Manning
Tuesday, Feb. 26: LB Clay Matthews


Season stats: 18 games (16 regular season; two postseason); 72 receptions, 922 yards, 103 targets, NFL-leading 15 touchdowns, four dropped passes, nine forced missed tackles
Best game: Week 15 win at Chicago (seven targets, five receptions, 60 yards, 11 yards after catch, season-high three touchdowns, one dropped pass; 0.1 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 2 win over Chicago (five targets, two receptions, minus-1 yard receiving, zero touchdowns, one dropped pass, season-worst minus-2.7 PFF rating) season rating: 8.5 (fifth-best on the Packers offense; third-best among Packers wide receivers; ranked No. 31 out of 103 among NFL wide receivers)
Expectations at the start of the season: Medium
Expectations were … Exceeded

Looking live: Prior to the 2012 season, Jones had been a solid but flawed receiver in his first five years in the NFL. Considering that Jones was usually the third or fourth option in the passing game in those previous seasons, flaws are somewhat expected for a player at his spot on the depth chart. The biggest issue in Jones’ game had always been drops. He dropped 20.51 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2009, 10.71 percent in 2010 and 13.64 percent in 2011. But everything changed for Jones in 2012, starting with a drastic improvement in consistency catching the ball, dropping only 4.48 percent. That was the 10th-best rate in the entire NFL. While Greg Jennings missed eight games and Jordy Nelson missed four games, Jones stayed healthy and played 91.5 percent of the offensive snaps this past season. Jones also became one of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets, with 103 passes thrown his way (second-most on the team). Jones’ most important contribution to the team, though, was his ability to find the end zone. Jones led the NFL in touchdowns despite having fewer total catches than the rest of the league’s top-10 receivers in that category.
Upon further review: This was a breakout season for Jones in many ways. It also validated the campaign efforts by Rodgers in 2011 for the Packers to re-sign Jones. That three-year, $9.4 million deal Jones signed at the time has now become quite a steal for the team. It was likely coincidence, but after Rodgers yelled at Jones along the sideline following an interception in Week 2, the 28-year-old receiver started to really play well. In a three-game span (Weeks 4-6), Jones had six touchdown catches. That’s as many touchdowns as Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley had combined throughout the entire regular season. Jones had most of his success on short routes, being targeted 45 times between 0-9 yards and catching 37 of them. On deep routes of 20-plus yards, he tied with Randall Cobb for the team lead with 16 targets, but Cobb outperformed him with 10 catches compared to Jones’ five. The one negative aspect for Jones this season was that he didn’t produce much in yards after catch. Jones’ 3.6 yards-after-catch average was by far the lowest among the Packers’ top five receivers and ranked him 66th in the NFL. 
Overall 2012 grade: A-

Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being on the Packers’ active roster in Week 1 next season. Jones is signed through the 2013 season. Next offseason, when Jones will turn 30, he’ll be a free agent. But, with Jones under contract for one more year, it gives general manager Ted Thompson more freedom this offseason to not consider overpaying Jennings. Several NFL teams are desperate for a top wide receiver and will likely spend foolishly to get one. After the season Jones had in 2012, he looks capable of being a No. 1 receiver. Along with Cobb and Nelson, Green Bay will have a great group of receivers in 2013, even if Jennings signs elsewhere.