Improvement in sports is a difficult thing to gauge. By and large, as fans, we have little to measure it by other than stats, and that’s an inherently flawed model. Since we’re not privy to details about how a player is being used and how he or she is executing a team’s scheme, we can only measure improvement by what we see in the box score.
The NBA ran into this problem (or was perceived to have run into this problem last year) when awarding its Most Improved Player award. Ryan Anderson of the Orlando Magic ended up winning the award, but many writers pointed out that while his volume statistics (points, rebounds, assists, and so on) were better, they were actually in line with his career numbers when normalized to account for the amount of minutes he played. Simply put, Anderson may not have been playing better, he was just playing more.
What does all this mean for the Packers? It means James Jones is this year’s Most Improved Player at The Packer Perspective, but not just because he beat his career bests in just about every major receiving category.
To be fair, Jones did have a career year statistically, posting personal bests in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, the traditional metrics used to measure wide receiver performance. He also started all 16 regular season games for the first time in his career. Jones also notched four multi-touchdown games this year, including a streak of three straight with two touchdowns in Weeks 4 through 6. And though drops are not an officially tracked statistic, Jones also cut down his drops significantly, making it through the first three quarters of the season before allowing a single pass sent his way to bounce off his sizable mitts.
But his improvement has extended beyond the field of play, although he certainly made plenty of noise there this year. (No really, he literally made noise on the field. That’s how he stayed focused.) Quarterback Aaron Rodgers notes that Jones “doubled” his film study this year, in addition to improving his practice habits. He also served as a stabilizing influence in a receiving corps rocked by injuries and inconsistent lineups this year, emerging as a consistent, reliable target in the passing game. Imagine the words “consistent” and “reliable” being used to describe Jones even just a year ago.
Even without numbers, it was apparent Jones was a different player this year. He was a chain mover, a touchdown maker, and a big red zone target, among other sports cliches. But above all, he was a player who, remarkably, showed he wasn’t done improving, even in his sixth season.