The Green Bay Packers will have one of the best running back tandems in the NFL this season. Who will emerge as the third running back on the depth chart for the Packers?
The Green Bay Packers turned a lot of heads by drafting AJ Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. With Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams on the roster, it was surprising for a lot of folks that Brian Gutekunst used a premium pick on a “non-essential” position. Fast forward a year and that so-called head-scratching selection is about to start paying dividends.
With Williams now in Detroit, Dillon is locked into the number two running back position. If all goes according to plan, the “Quadfather” and Jones will form one of the best running back tandems in the league this season.
“You look at us and you see thunder and lightning,” Dillon said. “You know, the lightning guy, Aaron, he can also grind out some yards…The thunder guy, myself, I’d like to say I can still beat some guys running away…We both definitely have our strengths.”
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt form the best running back tandem in the league for the Cleveland Browns. Jones and Dillon may be right behind them as the second-best duo, and there is no doubt they’re the best tandem in the NFC.
The question is, who will emerge as the third running back in the stable for the Packers? They have a trio of backs that could emerge to help give Matt LaFleur a three-headed monster at running back.
“You’re one and two spots are set,” Packers’ running back coach Ben Sirmans said. “The number three spot is wide open.
The bottom line is you really can’t do much about it because you haven’t played any real games yet. All those guys can do is do what they can to make themselves better. Make sure we develop trust in them because they know what they’re doing. It won’t get a chance to work itself out until we get to the preseason and start playing real football…All those guys are well aware that there’s an opportunity sitting there…You got to bring it every day. They all know that the third position is wide open. It won’t be decided until we start playing real football.”
The Packers have three candidates for the third running back spot behind Jones and Dillon. Last season as the third running back, Dillon had 46 rushing attempts in 11 games, with 21 of those carries coming against the Tennessee Titans.
After Jones and Dillon get their touches, there doesn’t figure to be much meat left on the bone for the third running back. Let’s take a look at the three running backs that will be watched closely during training camp and preseason.
The 256th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has the skills to be the perfect complementary third back behind Jones and Dillon.
Hill is a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game. He’s a natural hands catcher and is a refined route runner as a running back. In three games this past season, Hill caught 23 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown. In pass protection he steps up and delivers heavy blows to blitzing linebackers.
“You saw enough in that one game (against LSU) that he was a guy that can play on third down,” Nagy said. “He had some really nice pass-pro reps here at the Senior Bowl, so he’s physically stout enough to hold up in pass pro, so that’s another good thing. He adds to the depth of that group. A guy that late in the draft, talent-wise, he shouldn’t have been there. To take a shot right there made a heck of a lot of sense.”
In 2019, Hill showed what he can do on the ground when he led the SEC in rushing yards per game (103.8). He finished the season with 1,350 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Hill is a terror out in the open field. He’s a tackle-breaking machine. According to Pro Football Focus, Hill broke 116 tackles during his collegiate career. He possesses great lateral agility and does a great job of making the first man miss in the open field.
Taylor was an undrafted free agent in 2020. When you think of Memphis running backs you think of Antonio Gibson, Tony Pollard, Kenneth Gainwell, and Darrell Henderson. Taylor is of the same ilk.
He’s an explosive playmaker that likely would have gone on day three of the 2020 NFL draft if it had not been for a foot injury.
In 2018, Taylor rushed for 1,122 yards, 16 touchdowns, and hauled in two receiving touchdowns. Taylor is a bigger back (6-3) that runs through contact.
Taylor, like Hill, is a reliable wide receiver out of the backfield. There were times at Memphis where he lined up in the slot.
During his time at Memphis, Taylor was never “the guy”, he was Henderson’s backup in 2017 and 2018. Then in 2019, he hurt his foot early in the season, which led the way for Gainwell’s breakout campaign.
Taylor hasn’t played in a meaningful game since 2019, and it will be interesting to see how he looks during training camp and the preseason.
When discussing the running back three spot, one can’t rule out the former sixth-round pick. The former Notre Dame running back is entering his third year in the NFL and only has seven career rushing attempts.
Is year three where things come together for him? At this point, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Williams beats out Hill or Taylor for the third spot, but maybe this is the summer it all comes together for the former Notre Dame running back.
Williams was a big-play back during his time at South Bend. In 2018, he had eight rushes of 30-plus yards. In nine games that season, Williams averaged over six yards per carry and finished the season with 995 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
A big part of Williams’ struggles during his first two years in the NFL has been on the mental side. Maybe this is the year things slow down for him and he finds the success he enjoyed during his final year in college.
The battle for the third running back spot will be something to watch closely during training camp and the preseason. The odds on favorite is Hill, this year’s seventh-round pick, but it would not be shocking to see Taylor or Williams emerge this summer as the third back on the depth chart.
“Production,” Sirmans said. “It’s what you do against the defense. How productive are you against the defense? Each guy has their own different style to affect the game. The bottom line is, they’re competing against each other, in actuality they’re competing against the guys lined up across from them.”