The season is getting closer, as there just 19 days before the Packers take the field in the preseason opener against Tennessee. As we head into late July, one question people wonder about the Green Bay Packers offense is who will be the lead running back. This question is particularly interesting to those who play fantasy football. Aaron Jones is suspended for the first two games of the regular season, but he was the best at carrying the rock a season ago. Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy recently said that he will use the running back by committee approach, but we’ll see once the games begin.
First, I will start with a positive in going with this approach. First of all, a running back’s shelf life is much shorter than that of other players. Going running back by committee, it would reduce the wear and tear on a running back, helping him last a few more years in the NFL. For instance, just look at Demarco Murray, who just retired this week. Just in 2016, he rushed for nearly 1300 yards and had nine rushing touchdowns. Now, after just seven years, he is calling it quits. In 2014, Murray rushed an incredible 392 times for Dallas, and carried the ball 293 times in that 2016 season for Tennessee. Now, that wear and tear, specifically from those two seasons, came back to haunt him when looking for a job this offseason.
Fortunately for Green Bay, the Packers have three capable running backs, starting with Jones. As a rookie, the former UTEP standout showed flashes of what he could do. In only 81 attempts, Jones rushed for 448 yards and four touchdowns, despite missing four games and having five carries or fewer in eight more games. Like I stated above, he will be missing the first two games, so hopefully he comes in fresh and healthy against Washington in week three.
Ty Montgomery has shown flashes of being a solid running back, especially in 2016, but he could not stay on the field in 2017. In only eight games last year, Montgomery rushed for just 273 yards and fewer than four yards per carry. He does not have the durability to be the lead back, but he absolutely has a role in the offense. If he can just carry the ball about five times per game, he could help the offense immensely. Jamaal Williams, on the other hand, only had one game where he carried the ball at least three times and had a yards per carry average of at least four. But, I expect him to make a jump this season, and he is a good receiver out of the backfield as well.
Another positive is that they all have a different skill set with different strengths and weaknesses. Jones is unquestionably the best pure runner out of the three, but he has troubles with pass protection, which could limit his time on the field a bit. Williams was one of the best pass blocking running backs in the league a season ago, and that is invaluable to a team that passes the ball as much as Green Bay does. He also had 25 receptions out of the backfield, and scored twice, so that gives him another advantage. Montgomery is in his third year as a running back after being converted from a wide receiver. So, he does have receiving ability. He is not as shifty as Alvin Kamara, but it will be interesting to see if McCarthy uses Montgomery similarly to how Sean Payton uses Kamara down in New Orleans.
One of the advantages for just having one lead back is that sometimes it takes a back a bit to really get into a rhythm in a game. Jones had the game-winning 20-yard touchdown against Tampa Bay and was productive in three carries against Carolina. But he had at least 15 carries in two games last season, and was a force in those two games. In the pair of games, he carried the ball a combined 36 times for 256 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and two scores. In the games where Jones rushed the ball five or fewer times, he rushed for more than four yards a carry just twice. He could be a player who needs more carries to be a dominant running back.
Even with limited carries, Montgomery played well in 2016. He was able to show he has the ability to be the lead back. In his only game with at least 10 carries in that 2016 season, he rushed for 162 yards on 16 carries, as well as two scores.
After me running over a few advantages and a disadvantage, what are your thoughts on using a running back by committee? It infuriates fantasy football owners, but it will be better long-term for the Packers, I think. I would think if Jones gets pass protection down, he has the best chance of being the main running back. However, I would expect to see plenty of Williams and Montgomery, even if Jones gets the majority of the snaps.——————
Jonathon Zenk is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He is a huge Packers fan, and a graduate of The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. You can follow Jonathon on Twitter at @jzenk42