I was waiting and waiting for the announcement that the Packers were trading up to select a wideout. It seemed to go quickly, but it took nearly 2 and a half hours for all the prospects I was excited about to fall off the board without a trade. In the end, the Packers selected A.J. Dillon, running back out of Boston College.
The board was not kind to the Packers’ glaring need, a pass-catcher who can stretch the field or exploit the mid-range pass game for yards after the catch. The top 2 picks of the second round set the tone with Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman Jr. going with the 33 and 34 overall picks. Wideouts continued to fall off the board as the round went on. By the time the Packers picked at 62, 7 wideouts had been selected.
There was a lot to be excited about in this draft that featured prospects that could fit the team’s holes at linebacker, o-line and wide receiver. In all the pre-draft analysis I thought the Packers would gain at least one starter out of the first two rounds. Not a backup QB and backup RB.
But the Packers didn’t have much of a choice. Their first-round trade stripped them of their fourth-round pick, leaving minimal value for potential trade partners to move up and nab a wideout. The Packers last hope was Baylor standout Denzel Mims, who ended up going to the Jets just four picks before the Packers.
There’s a reason I’m sitting on my couch and Brian Gutekunst and team are in their virtual war rooms this weekend. But, I do feel like there were other players on the board that would have a bigger impact in 2020 than a running back. Justin Jones, the OT from Houston, was once considered a first-round pick but didn’t come off the board until the third. Picking him up in the second round would have been a great value and fit a team need. The same can be said for Zach Baun, the linebacker from Wisconsin.
At 6’ 0” and 247 lbs A.J. Dillon is a big back. He plays big, fast and hits hard. Despite his size, Dillon has good speed. He posted a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine. Not exactly a load I’d want to tackle at full speed. After the selection Trey Wingo hit it on the head when he said defenses have to make “business decisions” when tackling Dillon.
Along with his power and speed came production for Boston College. In 2017 Dillon set the Boston College freshman rushing record with more than 1,500 yards and racked up 14 TDs. In his last season with the Golden Eagles, he scampered (or thumped) for more than 1,600.
The Packers first-round surprise QB selection was definitely a headscratcher for many. The running back selection in the second may have caused a mild itch. I don’t believe many would be questioned this pick If the Packers secured a weapon for Rodgers in the first round. Especially considering the future of the running back position is in question with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams both entering free agency after this season. It’s clear that the Packers are looking 3-5 years down the road, not to 2020.
According to the Cheesehead TV Draft Guide, Dillon is the 14th ranked running back in this draft. A “mid-round selection a team looking to find a reliable halfback in a power running scheme.” Not exactly what the Packers are known for, but a good change-of-pace option for the shifty Jones.
Dillon was unknown for me until I heard his name called on Friday evening. As I read and watched his breakdown and highlights, I got excited by his potential but question where he will fit on this team in 2020. Last season the Packers running backs accounted for 747 receiving yards and 8 TDs. Most scouting reports have pass-catching among Dillon’s weaknesses. When watching his highlight reel, his power is exciting. He moves decisively, and hits the hole after one cut. He can move piles and deliver blows instead of take them. I’ll be watching how he holds up over the season considering the workload and run style he took on in his college days.
NFL Player Comp – James Connor (per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein) :
Despite the immediate questioning, Packers fans will be celebrating this pick if Dillon can come close to Connor’s production.
Connor was selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL by the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the time the University of Pittsburgh product was best known for overcoming his battle with cancer and being selected to his hometown team. He proved he was much more. He was thrown into what I can only imagine was one of the craziest locker room situations of all time with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
After one season playing behind Bell, Connor was thrust into the starting spot when the star running back decided to skip the entire 2018 season over a contract dispute. Connor did not disappoint. He racked up nearly 1,000 yards and 12 TDs. He was on pace for similar numbers until a nagging shoulder injury plagued his 2019 campaign.
Could the same fortune come to Dillon if the Packers and Aaron Jones part ways after the 2020 season? He certainly has the potential to do so, but fans will definitely see a different style of running than Jones.
A.J. Dillon won’t be impactful this year, but that’s OK because the Packers still have Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams to carry the load. If the Packers are unable to retain Jones after the 2020 season, Dillon has the potential become their feature back of the future.
——————Nick Meisner was baptized in a church of green and gold clad parishioners and grew up in the literal shadows of Lambeau Field. Needless to say, he has been a Packers fan for life. He writes for PackersTalk.com when his wife and two daughters are asleep and with a Miller Lite within arms reach. You can follow Nick on twitter at @nicmeis.