Moving into the second position group of our 2019 recap, the running backs for the Green Bay Packers showed out over the course of this past season. Led by Aaron Jones, who has more than made a name for himself in the NFL, and supported by Jamaal Williams, Tyler Ervin, and fullback Dan Vitale, this group was what helped keep the team in each and every one of its games.
Jones was the clear cut workhorse, as he should be, and he put together his best season so far in his young career. The UTEP draftee has been a superb find in the middle round of the NFL draft, showing yet again that the entire Green Bay organization understands the importance of drafting and developing talent.
2019 stats – 16 games, 1,084 rushing yards, 474 receiving yards, 19 total touchdowns, 3 fumbles (2 lost)
Having added over 500 more yards and 10 more touchdowns to his stat line in 2019 compared to ‘18, Jones was absolutely phenomenal for the Packers and easily was the best offensive player that they had this season. By taking a share of the load off of Aaron Rodgers, Jones’ efficiency improved (it seemed) as the weeks went on, mixing in a healthy dosage of passing targets along with rushing carries.
Averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per catch are very healthy averages for a starting RB that opposing defenses will be keying in on. In the team’s Week 8 contest against the Chiefs in Kansas City, Jones tore that defense apart to the tune of 67 rushing yards (13 carries) and 159 receiving yards (7 catches), scoring two receiving TDs in the team’s victory.
After that KC game, Matt LaFleur ended up going away from focusing on Jones in the passing game as much as he had been, which led to the team becoming a bit more one-dimensional. The final seven games of the season after their bout with KC saw Jones only catch 15 more balls, with six of those coming Week 14 against Washington.
Rushing wise, he was able to have so much success due to the health of the offensive line, as David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga held down the tackle spots practically all year, Corey Linsley was their rock at center, and both Billy Turner and rookie Elgton Jenkins were unmovable at guard.
Moving forward, teams will be keying in more on Jones in the GB offense, so LaFleur will need to scheme him into the offense more and in better ways, potentially utilizing motion and sweep concepts to draw the defenses to multiple parts of the field.
Jamaal Williams, Tyler Ervin, Dan Vitale
In the main backup role, BYU product Jamaal Williams missed two games in his third season due to injury, yet still was right in line with his career averages. Rushing for 460 yards and one TD on 107 attempts, and catching 39 balls for 253 and five scores represent a solid season as the backup to Jones.
Williams is capable of being a starter if called upon for injury reasons, which makes him a valuable commodity to have on this team. A huge part of his usability comes with him never having fumbled the ball once across his three-year career in the NFL, which shows that he needs to be rewarded for his ball security.
Tyler Ervin was signed off the street and suited up for four games with GB, bringing a speed threat to their offensive schemes. Commonly utilized as a jet sweep/motion man, Ervin did not have a huge role in the offense, yet would be a cheap, smart option to bring back next season.
His speed was best utilized in the return facet of the game, fielding six kicks for 160 yards (long of 45) and 11 punts for 106 yards (long of 18). While those numbers may not jump off the page necessarily, the fact that in his first game fielding punts, Ervin set back-to-back team longs of punt returns on consecutive attempts, and all were seemingly under 15 yards per return.
The impact that Ervin had in the return game should help boost his chances at returning to this team next year, especially with how he could be thrown into the offensive game calls for a full season.
Dan Vitale represents a dying breed in the NFL, as fullbacks are not getting the due that they deserve. Having just completed his second year with the Packers, Vitale’s role in LaFleur’s offense seems to be very solid, as he understands the importance of not only having a stout blocking option to free up zone runs but also how being able to stretch the field with another receiving option helps open up the offense.
Having suited up in 15 games, Vitale’s presence was felt more in the receiving game than anything, as he fell three yards short of 100 yards on the season in ‘19. With seven receptions and a long of 27, Vitale’s role, while not always noted on the stat sheet, is something that should not go unnoticed.
Rookie sixth-rounder Dexter Williams from Notre Dame did next to nothing for the team this year, and he should not be looked at as a solid contributor moving forward. The 2020 draft boasts solid running back prospects throughout all rounds, and the team would be smart to try and pick one of them up.
Ervin is the lone free-agent of this group, but Jones is slated to become a free agent next offseason, which presents a hurdle for the team moving forward. If they are unsure that they will be able to resign him, using a 3rd – 5th round pick on a back, like a Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU or Cam Akers from FSU, would be a smart move.
Jones is a free agent in the same offseason as David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark, and Kevin King, among others, but he may be the riskiest player to sign due to his workload. If he strings together another solid season in 2020, his price tag will continue to climb.
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23