Unlike the Wide Receiver room which I wrote about last week, the Green Bay Packers embark on the 2022 league year with their top running backs ready to return.
That’s not to say there won’t be some new faces in the RB room or some training camp competition.
But returning your top two workhorses leaves all but scraps (assuming good health) for the rest of the rushing depth chart.
Aaron Jones RB 1A:
Aaron Jones had another strong season in Green Bay with almost 1,200 total yards in 15 games while finding the end zone 10 times.
It was a good but different type of season for Jones than we are used to seeing.
He had the fewest number of carries since he took over as a full time starter with 171 (30 fewer than 2020 in one more game) and tied the fewest rushing TDs in his career with 4.
But he also had a career highs in receptions with 52 (3 more than ’19), and receiving TDs with 6 (3 in ’19).
The most obvious conclusion is that with a young and capable AJ Dillon taking the RB2 reins from the recently departed Jamaal Williams, why put undue strain on the fragile Jones?
The one and only knock against Aaron Jones tenure in Green Bay has been his propensity to get dinged up. The Packers coaching staff has gone to great lengths to preserve Jones so that they have his explosiveness when it matters most.
Jones has only played a full slate of games once, in 2019.
But even so, I can’t help but feel but feel like Jones was underutilized in 2021.
Here are his total touches in recent seasons:
285 – 19
248 – 20
223 – 21
756 – 45 games – 16.8 touches per game
I like Aaron Jones, a lot. I think he is the most dynamic offensive playmaker the Packers have after Davante Adams, and certainly the most versatile.
What I can’t understand why it was a priority to re-sign Aaron Jones to a new deal to put him in a dead even timeshare with AJ Dillon (Jones 223 touches vs Dillon 221 touches).
I know that the “running back by committee” approach is a necessity in today’s NFL, but if you’re going to limit Jones touches to that extent, why sign him to a new deal instead of trying to find a player in the draft that has similar qualities?
Aaron Jones can and should be a focal point of the offense. Especially in the passing game where at times the Packers lacked a consistent option after Davante Adams.
I liken Jones skillset to that of Alvin Kamara in New Orleans. Rightly or wrongly the Saints offense has run through Kamara for some time now. Kamara has a similar build to Jones and misses some time every year, but he’s a dynamic threat every time he touches the ball.
Matt LaFleur needs to get Aaron Jones more touches in 2022.
Jones is back with an almost 9 million dollar cap hit for ’22, which balloons to $19.2 million in ’23. This is likely Aaron Jones last ride in Green Bay, let him feast.
AJ Dillon RB 1B:
I’ll never forget my initial thoughts when AJ Dillon was drafted. Still reeling in shock from the Packers first round selection of QB Jordan Love, and they go and draft a player at one of the deepest positions on the team.
Makes perfect sense. /sarcasm
Of course, to us mere mortals the NFL draft exists solely as a tool for filling holes on the current roster. Why would I draft anyone I might need in 2-3 years? I need to win NOW.
And thusly the answer to why none of us are NFL executives quickly rises to the surface.
AJ Dillon has been every bit as advertised since his second round selection out of Boston College in 2020.
A size/speed freak checking in at the 91st percentile in combine RAS…at 250 lbs!
We’ve seen the sheer power of Dillon (Quadzilla, affectionately) on display the past two seasons. Running between the tackles and seemingly pushing the pile entirely by himself.
He’s a 3rd & Goal, 4th & 1 foregone conclusion. Something that the Packers have lacked for many seasons.
You can make the argument that after the Special Teams meltdown against the 49ers in the divisional playoff round the loss of AJ Dillon to a cracked rib was the second leading reason they lost that game.
AJ Dillon is built to perform in frigid temps against stingy defensive fronts.
One of the few knocks against Dillon coming out of Boston College was that he was not involved in the passing game and scouts predicted that his game was not well suited to being a receiving asset.
All Dillon has done is show-out with 36 catches (in part-time duty) for 9.2 YPR and a 92.3 catch percentage.
About the only thing we haven’t seen is Dillon flash the long speed indicated by his 4.53 40 time (only a touch slower than Aaron Jones 4.50 time!)
I don’t believe AJ Dillon has reached his ceiling and I’m excited for what the future holds. There is potential that when the 2022 regular season arrives we could be flipping Aaron Jones 1A & AJ Dillon’s 1B titles.
Patrick Taylor RB3:
Patrick Taylor is a bit of a mystery but has the potential to take the RB3 job and run with it.
About the only extended look we received of Taylor was in week 18 against the Lions where he toted the ball 11 times for 53 yards and a touchdown. It was a meaningless game, but not for the Lions.
Taylor has excellent size at 6-3, 223 Lbs and has a collegiate track record of excellence. Going over 1100 rushing yards in 2018 with 16 touchdowns for the Memphis Tigers. Taylor had an injury riddled final campaign with Memphis in 2019.
Taylor has bounced around between the active roster and the practice squad, but there is potential that he may have shown enough in Kylin Hill’s absence to deserve more playing time.
Taylor will likely find himself in a training camp battle for the third running back spot, but if the Packers add anyone in the draft he could be looking elsewhere for playing time.
Kylin Hill RB4:
Much like Patrick Taylor, Kylin Hill had an excellent junior collegiate season (rushing for almost 1,400 yards and 10 TDs) before deciding to opt-out of his senior season midway due to Covid-19.
The Packers used a 7th round selection in the 2021 NFL draft on Hill, hoping to capture the magic of his junior college season.
Hill has typical RB size at 5-10, 215 lbs and 4.55 speed. Average NFL running back size/speed metrics.
He was able to secure kick return duties early on but unfortunately suffered a season ending knee injury in week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals.
The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” league, and while it’s heartbreaking to see a young player go down with a serious injury, it’s not uncommon for the player to be replaced quickly.
Especially a player with a minimal draft capital investment.
The odds are that Kylin Hill will at least be around through training camp, but he likely won’t be available to compete as he’ll only be 9-10 months removed from ACL surgery.
The top tandem of Aaron Jones & AJ Dillon will once again lead the Packers backfield. Patrick Taylor and Kylin HIll are options for RB3 touches, but neither one is particularly inspiring.
I expect that the Packers will spend at least one draft pick on a running back in the mold of Aaron Jones as I strongly this will be Jones last year in Green Bay.
Look for the Packers to draft an agile ball carrier in the 3rd-5th rounds.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.