If the Green Bay Packers recent draft told us anything, it’s that the team plans to adjust to a more run-focused scheme.
Running back A.J. Dillon and tight end/H-back Josiah Deguara were selected early to help Matt LaFleur run the team he wants. LaFleur’s mentor, Kyle Shanahan, runs a similar scheme in San Francisco; one that shredded the Packers’ defense as if he were getting ready to make nachos.
The Packers obviously have the superior quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, meaning the passing game will never be secondary, but a stronger run game will drastically improve the Packer offenses’ play-action game. According to ACME Packer Company’s Pete Bukowski, Aaron Rodgers was one of the least efficient quarterbacks in play-action in 2019, finishing below 30th in YPA and passer rating in play-action, though he notes the team had a 66% success rate from Week 9 on.
Knowing how important play-action is to the LaFleur system and how large of a role running backs will play, how will the Packers’ running back group shake out in 2020?
Jones was the best player on the Packers’ offense in 2019, tying for the NFL lead in touchdowns and providing a spark for a largely sparkless attack. Jones played in every game in 2019 and is entering a contract year. If healthy, he should be the star of the offense once again.
Jones was heavily involved in the passing game, and that should only increase in 2020. Unless a team wows Brian Gutekunst with an offer, there is no reason to believe Jones won’t be the man once again in 2020.
The Packers clearly loved Dillon; he was chosen over many running backs that draft analysts had ranked much higher, and the Packers had their pick of the litter. Dillon is built like an old-school running back with a massive build, but statements from himself and Gutekunst after the draft imply he’ll play a major role in the passing game. His lack of production in that regard was due to the nature of the Boston College offense, rather than lack of ability.
Running backs are one of the easier position groups to adapt to the NFL, and it is hard not to envision Dillon as RB2 early on. He should provide a reliable weapon and allow the Packers to avoid overworking Aaron Jones. Should he deliver in the passing game as promised, two running back sets could become the norm in Green Bay.
Legends speak of a time when the 2019 Packers couldn’t return the ball on special teams. Some say they were even approaching the record for lowest return yards in NFL history. A hero arose to prevent that prophecy. Tyler Ervin was claimed from waivers in early December and made an immediate impact. Swervin’ Ervin immediacy brought juice to the Packers’ special teams. In his first game as a Packer, he had 51 punt return yards with a long of 18, bringing the Packers out of the negatives in his first appearance. Ervin would continue to be a reliable presence, and LaFleur showed a willingness to use him on offense as well.
Ervin likely maintains his job as the primary returner for Green Bay, and with his speed he’ll likely see looks on gadget plays as well. Ervin is cheap and effective and will play an important role for the team.
Despite Jamaal Williams being injured and the team’s desire to front a strong run game, the younger Williams wasn’t able to create a role. He played in just two games in 2019 and had only five rushing attempts. He spent most of the season on the practice squad. With Dillon joining the group and D. Williams lack of trust from the coaching staff, it’s likely he stays there again.
Jamaal Williams is one of the most likable players on the Packers roster and an absolute delight in interviews. As an RB2, he’s reliable and is capable of some really good plays. But it was always unlikely that he and Aaron Jones would both return to the Packers in 2021, and the Packers just invested in an early-round back they’ll want to see the field. J. Williams place on the team is now cloudy.
Should the Packers resign Aaron Jones in 2021, Williams is probably gone. If Jones departs in free agency, its possible Williams resigns to back up A.J. Dillon. Either way, he doesn’t have a clear role for the Packers in 2020. He could end up a surprise cut come training camp, or he could hold on the fourth running back spot as a change of pace/injury insurance back. Though I hope otherwise, if the Packers love one of their young UDFAs or someone on waivers, Williams could be the causality.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.