The Green Bay Packers backfield is full of talent heading into this season. How will head coach Matt LaFleur balance the touches to maximize their abilities?
The Green Bay Packers are now a few days into training camp, and unlike most years, the practice fields are still empty. Players and staff must undergo and pass three different Covid-19 tests before being allowed to enter the facility. With practices taking the form of virtual meetings during the testing period, the battle for snaps at running back is still as unclear as ever.
As the team enters their second season under head coach Matt LaFleur, it appears that the Packers’ offense will continue to trend towards a run-first approach. This was made abundantly clear when the Green Bay Packers selected Boston College running back AJ Dillon in the second round of the NFL Draft. Dillon joins a backfield with 2019’s leader in rushing touchdowns, Aaron Jones, and Jamaal Williams, who finished last season tied with the team lead in receiving touchdowns.
Second-year back Dexter Williams is also hoping to find himself on the final 53-man roster along with Tyler Ervin, who joined the team in mid-2019 and provided an immediate lift on special teams. Williams saw limited action, only carrying the ball five times all season and might be on the outside looking in at the end of training camp. Ervin averaged nearly 10 yards per punt return and 26 yards per kickoff return and could also prove to be useful as a gadget type player in LaFleur’s offense. Still, he would be hard-pressed to take snaps away from Jones, Jamaal Williams, or AJ Dillon.
After a stellar performance in 2018, Aaron Jones looked poised to breakout in 2019, and he did just that, rushing for 1084 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also continued to show his versatility, catching 49 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns. Coming off his first injury-free season and heading into a contract year, expectations are that Jones will continue to be the featured back; however, his smaller frame could cost him some carries in short-yardage situations.
Jamaal Williams also put his versatility on display in 2019 by grabbing 39 passes, including five for touchdowns. Though he suffered a concussion after taking a cheap shot from an Eagles defender in Week 4, Williams was still able to carry the ball in his typical punishing style. During the offseason, Jamaal reunited with his former trainer from his BYU days, Luke Neal, and has been working to improve his receiving skills and speed.
In a recent interview with Jimmy Christensen, Neal said:
“You can line Jamaal Williams up right now as a receiver in the NFL, and he’ll be productive. He will get off the line of scrimmage, off the press, and run through double-triple move route no problem. Jamaal Williams can play receiver right now in the NFL.”
Like Jones, Williams is also set to be a free agent at the end of the 2020 season and appears determined to showcase his skills to maximize his value for his next contract.
The lone new face in the running back room is rookie AJ Dillon. After putting together an impressive resume at Boston College, the second-round pick seems to be the future bruiser for the Packers offense. At six feet tall and nearly 250 pounds, Dillon brings plenty of power to go with his 4.53 40-time. While AJ may have put on some miles in college, carrying the ball 845 times in his three years at BC, splitting the load three ways should help him adapt to the NFL as well as preserve him for the future.
The Green Bay Packers have spent quite a bit of draft capital acquiring the pieces for their new-look offense over the past couple of seasons. In 2019 they invested a second-round pick on guard Elgton Jenkins and a third-round pick on tight end Jace Sternberger. The 2020 Draft saw them use another third-round pick on tight end Josiah Deguara following the selection of Dillon in the second round. Aside from Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers has a relatively unknown group of wide receivers to work with, meaning Coach LaFleur will have to rely on his trio of running backs to establish the run this season in order to open up opportunities downfield in the play-action passing game. Luckily, the Green Bay Packers have three talented and motivated running backs looking to do just that. If there will be enough carries to go around remains to be seen.