Lost in the debate this off-season about whether running backs are worth paying as much as Cole Kmet, was exactly how much impact true franchise players at RB can have. Christian McCaffrey made it possible to give up on a QB the 49ers spent 3 firsts on after 2 years, Jonathan Taylor broke Jim Irsay’s brain, and Derrick Henry is still tricking people into thinking that Mike Vrabel is a good head coach. Hell, even Justin Fields convinced his GM to not take a QB early. You could argue that Aaron Jones has as much impact as all of those running backs on the Packers’ offense. And now he’s hurt.
Let’s go over how the Packers may attempt to replace Jones if he can’t go this weekend.
Get Dillon Going
The plodfather has gotten a lot of flack over the past few seasons. He’s a big back who can’t really squeeze through the tight holes that Aaron Jones can or make defenders miss like Aaron Jones can but he just doesn’t use his size well to go through defenders like Aaron Jones can’t.
Part of the problem is probably that Dillon needs to be used more on downhill runs from under center. Give him a hole to hit and don’t make him move sideways. If Jones isn’t expected to play, we could see a different type of offense with less shotgun and more downhill running.
We already saw the team attempt some pistol last week, but the slow developing runs they did out of it (which relied on complicated blocking schemes run by young players) often took too long to create holes and by then Dillon was down.
It’s unlikely the Packers will be able to keep Jones next season, when his cap hit is over $20mm, so it’s time to see if there’s any way the offense can make it work with Dillon, who would likely come very cheap on a second contract or one-year prove it deal.
Start Emanuel Wilson
If the team decides to stick with a similar gameplan to what they ran last season or what they ran week 1, I’d honestly rather see Emanuel Wilson start than Dillon. Wilson showed a ton of change of direction ability and breakaway speed in the preseason and could be the perfect type of creative back to replace Jones. And, like Dillon, he can use it as a partial audition to become Jones’ long-term replacement.
Spread it out
One of the reasons Jones fits the LaFleur scheme so well is because of his ability to make something out of nothing in the condensed formations that the team often uses. If they decide to spread it out more than normal, they can use that to get more of the downhill runs for Dillon, but they can also replace some of the runs that Aaron Jones would use to keep the chains moving with screens, other short passes, and RPOs.
If you’re worried about Dillon going down the first time that he’s hit, spread it out and put a linebacker in conflict so that either Jayden Reed gets the ball running away from a linebacker, or AJ Dillon has a head of steam to run over a safety.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.