It's Now Or Never For Packers Running Backs

Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon form a championship-caliber running duo, but if they don't win one this year, they might not have another chance.

When the Packers traded for Brett Favre and climbed out of the dumpster in the early 90's, they built their running game around Edgar Bennett. A few years later, they got Dorsey Levens and that dynamic backfield pairing played a large role in getting to the Super Bowl.

That was the best running tandem the team had seen since the Lombardi era, and now Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon look like they're primed to surpass them.

They took an interesting path to get here, too.

Aaron Jones was a Day 3 pick and didn't see much action as a rookie. He made the most of every opportunity though, and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. In his second season, he was used a little more and still kept up his 5.5 average per carry (which led the league). Despite flashing at pretty much every opportunity, then-Head-Coach Mike McCarthy didn't utilize him much.

Things changed when Matt LaFleur arrived in 2019. He gave Jones more carries in his third year than he had in his first two combined. Jones responded by starting all 16 games and leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns. He also became a much bigger part of the passing game and averaged 9.7 yards per reception.

The following year, Jones had a career-high rushing yards and made his first Pro Bowl while establishing himself in Top-5 discussions.

That was the year AJ Dillon arrived in Green Bay, though.

Dillon stole a few carries as a rookie, but last year, he led the team in rushing.

When the pick was first announced, fans and pundit reactions on Dillon ranged from puzzled, to laugher, to anger. No one saw him quickly rising to become the top power back in the conference, but here we are.

Dillon looks like a rising star and it's not just based on a promising statistical trajectory, it's based on how he got those numbers.

Since entering the league, he's been creating an impressive highlight real of trucking fools. The Quadzilla memes are fun, sure, but what he does on the field is no laughing matter. He is a rare power back who can win by sheer physical dominance, a beastly presence that forces defenders into business decisions.

His physicality makes him a perfect complement to Aaron Jones, a slashing cutback runner with top-shelf balance and uncanny vision.

They've followed wildly different paths. Jones was a Day 3 pick, the second of three backs the Packers selected in the same draft while Dillon was a 2nd round pick that seemed targeted by the team for a specific purpose. Jones was used sparingly, almost like his coach didn't believe in him, while Dillon was methodically eased into a growing role.

 Jones (who ranks 6th all time in NFL history with 5.1 yards per carry) is squarely in his prime and Dillon seems to be entering his. Last season, they flourished in a shared role.

This year, their shared role will become even more important.

After trading away Davante Adams in the offseason, losing MVS to free agency, and an facing an uncertain situation in the tight end room, the Packers will need to lean on the running game. They've beefed up the defense, too, allowing the to play complementary football (especially in the cold) with their multi-faceted running attack.

The thought of Aaron Rodgers running an offense with a great running game and balanced by a premier defense (and maybe a special teams unit that doesn't lose playoff games) conjures up talk of championships.

But this year may be the only chance they get at it.

With Aaron Jones carrying an almost laughable cap hit of over $20M next season (with $9.6M tied up in a dead cap hit), it seems like a near certainty that he won't be back on the team for another chance.

If the Packers are gonna ride the Dillon-Jones train to a title, this has to be the year.

 

Bruce Irons has played, coached, and studied football for decades. Best-selling author of books such as A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Draft, A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Salary Cap, and A Fan's Guide To NFL Free Agency Hits And Misses, Bruce contributes to CheeseHeadTV and PackersForTheWin.com.

Follow Bruce Irons on Twitter at @BruceIronsNFL.

 

NFL Categories: 
4 points

Comments (19)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Coldworld's picture

July 03, 2022 at 07:53 am

I don’t think the belief that Jones’ contract either gets changed or he’s gone will be surprising to many. The real question is whether the Adams free offense leads to Jones having a real impact in in the passing game and an elevated level of two back sets as integral parts of the offense. If both of those do materialize, Jones could be back. If not, the reality is he probably will be a luxury that we have to forgo.

5 points
6
1
Rarescope's picture

July 03, 2022 at 09:36 am

That is an interesting take and one (as a “Blind Optimist” :P) that id like to see become reality. After watching Jones dominate the game in 2020 I was sure we wouldn’t be able to afford to keep him but then bango, they offer him a boatload of money and I’m doing backflips.

I know there were a few times last year where I was like, who is that receiver going for a touchdown, he doesn’t look familiar - and it turned out to be Jones. I agree that without Adams, he might just pull it off - a transition to a slot receiver with WR money. Cobb has always been a question mark even though I was glad to see him come back, so if Amari isn’t able to step up I think Jones might just steal his job.

0 points
0
0
LLCHESTY's picture

July 03, 2022 at 08:10 pm

I think Jones would have to finish top 5 in yards from scrimmage and TDs to even think of reworking his contract. With Dillon going into his 4th season next year I think the way to go would be to let Jones go and use Dillon as a true workhorse back getting 300+ plus touches with occasional sprinkles of a pass catching back. If Dillon shows he can handle the load he could be extended with a deal similar to Jones' where they have an easy out after two years.

0 points
0
0
Wjstamper's picture

July 03, 2022 at 08:08 am

Wait...How much are they paying WRs? Who was our #2 receiver last year? Who barely played for their first 2 years? Who shares RB hits throughout the year. You got it, Aaron Jones. Worth every penny and the Packers will be more than happy to pay him for a 3rd contract.

-2 points
3
5
LLCHESTY's picture

July 03, 2022 at 08:14 pm

Paying a RB $20 million for a season is foolish.

0 points
0
0
PatrickGB's picture

July 03, 2022 at 08:14 am

“Now or never” is a pretty grim assessment. Yet I do see an uptick In carries for the RB’s. As far as Jones future here, I suspect that he will remain unless Hill, Taylor or the rookies show something that warrants a spot.

1 points
1
0
Rarescope's picture

July 03, 2022 at 09:38 am

Hill comes back in great form, Jones moves to Slot Receiver/lethal gadget player. Calling it.

0 points
0
0
Spock's picture

July 03, 2022 at 09:44 am

"When the pick was first announced, fans and pundit reactions on Dillon ranged from puzzled, to laugher, to anger." Uh, no, I thought it was a fine pick (turned out even better than I imagined) but I certainly wasn't " puzzled, to laugher, to anger." Not sure where you got that from; some people thought he was drafted "Too high." but other than that, no one I talked to had any problems with the pick. A "laugher"????? Don't know where you got that from.

2 points
2
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 04, 2022 at 06:31 am

I hated the pick, and I didn't hedge in my comments at the time. [Looks like dobber didn't like it, but Bure, Draft Hobbyist, LH, all liked it.] I had Dillon as a fourth round talent and Deguara as a 6th rounder. I didn't hate Love as a prospect, even a first round prospect, but having just signed AR to a 6 year deal, the timing made no sense to me. I definitely was not a happy camper after the first three picks of the 2020 draft.

I haven't changed my mind on Deguara, and since I didn't think AR was regressing, I am not surprised that Love hasn't found the field. Dillon, OTOH, looks to be at worst a solid late second round pick and he has a chance to be an excellent choice. Love only looks good if he becomes a solid starting QB at some point. Given the timing, there was no chance of GB enjoying the benefit of a cheap but good starting QB.

0 points
0
0
Return_To_Sanity's picture

July 04, 2022 at 09:18 am

Theres a lot of people out there who get all their opinions on players from sites like Pro Football Focus who actually ranked Dillon as an undrafted free agent (LOL). All anyone had to do was watch him play in college where he was a star from day 1 as a freshman. He had a 75 yard td against Louisville that year where he tossed Jaire Alexander like a rag doll at the line of scrimmage then outran the rest of the defense for the long score. But if that wasnt enough, he put on an absolute display at the combine where he confirmed his freakish combination of size and speed. Going into that draft, he was a no doubter pick for me and I was dancing in the living room when the Packers selected him. I remember telling my buddies "he's Eddie Lacy with a work ethic." If people want to take the "but running backs are undervalued nowadays" argument to paint Dillon as a bad pick, thats one thing. But if they didnt think he was going to be good, its clear they knew very little about him.

0 points
0
0
NickPerry's picture

July 03, 2022 at 09:54 am

Jones is a special talent and the PERFECT compliment to Dillon. When Adams had been hurt the Packers went 7-0 which everybody knows. It was a TEAM effort in these wins but in several of those games, it was Jones in particular who really carried the Packers.

The Packers have added 2 void years already. I don't know if more can be added or if it would even be worth it, I guess we'll have to see what happens this season. I mean if Jones gains 1500 to 1700 total yards from scrimmage and scores 15 TD's again and catches 60 plus balls, you have to find a way to keep him, don't you?

I suppose some of what they may or may not do with Jones would depend on Kylin Hill and his recovery. Hill looked pretty damn good before getting injured, but Hill may not be 100% until 2023 anyways. He'll be back, but people say it's year 2 coming off that type of injury before they're really back.

THIS offense is going to run through Jones and Dillon this year. I think they'll run the ball more than any other year they have under MLF. Both Dillon and Jones will be on the field at the same time much more often this season. I don't know what 2023 will bring, but I'm hoping they both can stay healthy because it's going to be fun to watch THIS year.

5 points
5
0
stockholder's picture

July 03, 2022 at 10:04 am

The dumpster? Ron Wolf became the GM in 1991, - 2001. The Packers won it al by 1996. He knew what he was getting into. The packers seem lost. Would probably be a better way to put it. After all; it's about the focus on the mission.
And here we are with two RBs. The simple truth is; Brockington and McArthur Lane were pretty good too.
But without a better Defense. The best Teams just won't Triumph, and become champions. .
You could point to Miami's 17-0. It still took more than two RBs. And Morino didn't have more than his arm at times.
And what really made the Lombardi teams so great, wasn't just the Rbs.
I still see the need for a 3rd rb. Just to make sure the opposing Defenses can't scheme it to two players. Rotation is the key.
So while you point at a Title. I point to the Focus of the mission. - And since you point to the TE Room. Lets not forget they do block first!
While we don't currently have a that Front runner. Never rely on what you have, unless you can get better. That means a Trade!
Yes: Gutey needs to trade for a TE. Miami did it; getting Marv Fleming. Wolf got Keith Jackson.
And while the Defense is ready to blossom. The missing piece is TE.
I say; stop the RIDING on the back of Rb, or Aaron Rodgers.

-5 points
1
6
Stroh's picture

July 03, 2022 at 11:48 pm

Dan Marino came around a good decade after Miami went 17-0! Greise and Morrall were the QBs in that era. You seem to have am obvious issue getting the players and eras they were in mixed up, old timer!

0 points
0
0
stockholder's picture

July 04, 2022 at 11:07 am

No issues.

-1 points
0
1
wildbill's picture

July 03, 2022 at 12:55 pm

I think what I enjoy most about Dillion is when he turns his back during contact. This not only seems better at protecting the ball but he can drive with his legs with more power. Always love a powerful big back, for us not the other team lol

3 points
3
0
13TimeChamps's picture

July 03, 2022 at 02:23 pm

Hey wildbillion...his name is Dillon.

0 points
0
0
wildbill's picture

July 03, 2022 at 05:51 pm

I got fat thumbs but thanks for the childish spell check. Always amazed how pitiful your lives must be to hang on every spell or syntax error.

1 points
2
1
13TimeChamps's picture

July 04, 2022 at 11:03 am

His name is repeatedly misspelled as Dillion on this site. I could give a rats azz typically about spelling, but I just think it's kind of disrespectful to misspell players names, particularly veterans, who have been on the team for a number of years. Sorry it got your panties in a bunch.

And my life is quite full, but thanks for your concern.

1 points
1
0
Vforrest's picture

July 04, 2022 at 07:52 am

AJ no doubt he has moments he’s electric and I’m sure defenses realize he can be that chunk player that ends up in the end zone a lot, but I can’t get the SF game out of my mind’s eye.

Waiting for the offense to get something going and it never happened, and Dillon standing on the sideline for three quarters with a chest injury. How valuable is Dillon? Is he the really scary one of the two? Man I hope these two play every game at a position that is bruising but the odds are that third back gets #2 rb carries in a few games this year.

0 points
0
0