Brace yourselves Green Bay Packers fans. I know you’re not going to like me saying this. But we may be entering the twilight of Aaron Jones‘ career in Green and Gold. He may still be effective, but his price tag may begin to chase the Packers’ front office away. His fellow running back AJ Dillon however, is entering his fourth season. A contract season for Dillon and may not command as steep a price. But can AJ Dillon be a feature back?

There’s been one obvious evolution the last few years with the Green Bay offense. That’s the use of running backs in the passing game. We have Matt LaFleur to thank for that. LaFleur’s offense relies heavily on the big play ability of its running backs. In the past, if a running back caught the ball, it was likely a screen pass or a little pitch and catch for 3-4 yards. Suddenly, we’re seeing 20-30 yard catches from running backs. And we have the outstanding hands of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to thank for that.

The Jones and Dillon Tandem

Many have the duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon as a top-5 running back tandem in the league. You know what’s funny about that? I recall in 2020 when AJ Dillon was drafted, haters were calling him a glorified fullback. Apparently, they’d never heard of hall of famer Jerome Bettis or Derrick Henry. Big-bodied running backs that absolutely punished defenders. They thought he was going to be a blocker for the most part. Never listen to someone that deems a draft pick a failure from the start.

Fast forward to today and the last two years Dillon has averaged about 780 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground the last two years. Pile on about 260 average receiving yards as well in those years, you’ve gotten 2300 all-purpose yards the last two years out of a supposed “fullback.” Even some of the best Packers running backs of the last 30 years didn’t put up those numbers in two seasons.

The whole time AJ Dillon has been putting up those numbers however, he’s been second to Aaron Jones. Jones himself has put up over 2700 all-purpose yards in those two years. That’s over 5K yards from just your two running backs in two years. Not too shabby.

In the league today, every-down running backs are just hard to come by. It’s not necessarily a matter of the back being unable to handle a full workload, it’s wear and tear. If you have a good running back, you want to make them last. So, you’re going to have another 1-2 running backs you can trust to spell them on occasion. That way you can make the running back’s 4-5 year average effective career length last longer.

So, while AJ Dillon has had a fairly decent career thus far, could he take it to the next level in Aaron Jones’ absence?

Enter the Love Era

All of these numbers you see above, they’re mostly with Aaron Rodgers at the helm of the offense. Now this isn’t a bad thing, but Aaron Rodgers was very much a product of the West Coast offense. Pass before Run. And when you do this as a QB, you’re looking at your receivers first. Not really your running backs having to come out of the backfield for the first 2-3 seconds of your progressions. In my opinion, Aaron Rodgers was less willing to let a play develop, and more wanted to make it develop himself.

Jordan Love now is a first-year starter. He’s been in this scheme for heading into four years now. It’s all his pro career knows. So, he’s more likely to stick with the plan than go outside it. This could mean many more carries for the running backs. That 1150 all-purpose yards a year for AJ Dillon could hit around 1300 or more even with Aaron Jones still gobbling up the majority. So then what about if Jones is absent?

AJ Dillon could be a feature back in Matt LaFleur’s system. I believe he has what is necessary to put up Aaron Jones-like numbers in the right situation. Of course, in the event this does happen, Dillon will likely need a good spell-back like he’s been for Aaron Jones to keep him fresh.

Betting on himself in a contract season could be nerve wracking for AJ Dillon in 2023. But this might be the best opportunity he has had in his career to showcase his true talent and value.

He could become a true RB1.

Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.