It’s Time to Make AJ Dillon Green Bay’s RB1

The Packers should lean more heavily on AJ Dillon in 2022.

Like many young players in Green Bay, AJ Dillon has been brought along slowly.

The former second-round pick played only a bit-part role in his rookie season, but after the departure of Jamaal Williams, he saw significantly more of the field, tallying 187 carries for 803 yards in 2022.

Dillon has an impressive yards per attempt of 4.48 since entering the NFL, and now going into his third season, it is time for him to become the first name called to carry the ball.

In 2021, Dillon actually carried the ball 16 more times than Jones, and the Packers should continue to lean more heavily in that direction.

Specifically on early downs, Dillon’s battering ram running style should be used liberally to put Green Bay in favourable down and distance.

According to Nate Tice of The Athletic, Dillon ranked third out of 49 running backs with at least 100 carries during the 2021 season in percentage of first-and-second-down runs which went for 5 or more yards.

The flipside is that he ranked 48th in percentage of first-and-second-down runs which went for 10 or more yards, and that’s where Aaron Jones comes in.

Jones is more likely to rip off an explosive run than Dillon, and he can still be a huge part of the offense as a change of pace to slash a battered and bruised defense and also as a true weapon in the passing game.

A season ago, the number of big plays the Packers got from the running game dwindled, mainly due to the relative struggles of the offensive line compared to previous years.

With major questions still to be answered regarding the availability of David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, it stands to reason there could once again be a shortage of gaping holes for Green Bay’s backs to dash through in 2022.

In that situation, it could be advantageous to more regularly give the ball to a guy who can push the pile.

In the modern NFL, very few teams have one running back who dominates the carries, with most clubs instead favouring a committee approach.

This is how the Packers operate too, and Jones is still sure to get plenty of carries this season, as he should. Matt LaFleur may also experiment more with getting both backs on the field at once.

But with Jones a possible cap casualty after this season when his cap hit increases exponentially, the time has come for Dillon to become the lead back in Green Bay.

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Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @Marko7LW

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4 points

Comments (36)

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Turophile's picture

June 26, 2022 at 12:57 pm

When you have two very talented RBs with different skill sets, there doesn't need to be a RB1 and RB2.

Either RB can be the featured guy in any week depending on the opposition, the gameplan and possibly the health of each (RBs are often dinged up here and there through the season, so if one is hurting more than usual but still can play, you emphasise the other guy for a week or two).

So, in short, Dillon doesn't NEED to be RB1 - he'll get his share of carries/catches.

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Guam's picture

June 26, 2022 at 04:09 pm

Thank you Turophile! Saved me from typing the same thing. Us'em both as they are both very good and have different strengths. Balance the carries and don't wear either one out.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 27, 2022 at 11:02 pm

ditto

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Lphill's picture

June 26, 2022 at 01:02 pm

Yet how frustrating has it been watching Jones in when short yardage was needed then he couldn’t get a yard.

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PhantomII's picture

June 26, 2022 at 02:56 pm

Frustrating is having a Coach who should be an OC make the same mistakes year after year in not using more RB's in the rotation (at least 4) so when 1 is hurt ML feels comfortable enough to use a like skilled RB in his place so ML doesn't have to change his game plan....Which is something he has been unable to accomplish in game.

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Packer_Fan's picture

June 26, 2022 at 01:35 pm

Don't label the running backs. Look at it this way. We have two good running backs and questions about the wide receiver's. We need to lean on them starting out the season. 30 to 40 touches per game and 150 to 200 yards. And use them any way possible to achieve that.

And when teams start trying to take that away, then the passing game will open up.

So rather than labeling players, think of ways for the Pack to use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 27, 2022 at 11:05 pm

Hallelujah. I've been searching for a way to say the very same thing. Seems so obvious but we struggle to stick with the run for long when it dominates.

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marpag1's picture

June 26, 2022 at 03:04 pm

How 'bout we let training camp and game performance sort it out?

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stockholder's picture

June 26, 2022 at 03:05 pm

I get your a Fan. But he's not a #1. Ahmad Green was a #1. There's the comparison. Dillion earns every yard. They don't come easy. He got hurt in the play-offs . I get Dillion's power turns heads. But he hasn't shown the durability of a Rb his size.
And as long as this OL is in transition. You just can't bi-pass Jones. Go back and read some Articles on Jones. ( When they signed him. )
Electric. Loyal. Quick. Fast. etc. Jones should be used more.
We are very fortunate that "both" can be a #1. But unless the OL dominates. There won't be a #1.

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Oppy's picture

June 26, 2022 at 03:18 pm

*Ahman Green was a great runner, and he was also a fumble factory.

Also, I agree Jones should be featured more in the ground game, but as long as #12 is on the field, we can rest assured that running the ball will only happen as sparingly as possible to attempt to set up a big play action pass, and will otherwise be relegated to running off the clock at the end of a game that is handily under control. Rodgers wants to involve the RBs in the game plan so long as it means throwing passes to them.

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lou's picture

June 26, 2022 at 07:19 pm

Agree on why they resigned Jones, put all the attributes together and he is a "Weapon" just like McCaffery but unlike McCaffery he has stayed on the field. Just keep both backs healthy, no one cares who is 1 or 2 with the way they have played. It sure is a great feeling on 4th and short to know Dillon can get the yardage required almost every time, it has been a long time since we have seen that and I would expect because of it we see a lot of passes off of play fakes in those situations ala Bart Starr.

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NoNonsense's picture

June 26, 2022 at 09:19 pm

To say Dillon hasn't shown the durability of a RB his size is disingenuous at best or just an outright lie. Dude got hurt playing special teams, a fractured rib covering a kickoff. Besides a minor quad strain in the playoffs against the Rams his first year, hasn't been hurt otherwise since he's been in GB.

In 4 years of college he suffered a fractured fibula and had an ankle injury that caused him to miss some games and he aggravated the ankle in another game. The guy is durable, far more than Jones has been, 6 years 4 injuries, 2 pretty major. With his style of running that's pretty freaking good if you ask me.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 27, 2022 at 01:50 am

Well I agree, though your recitation of Dillon's injuries made me check. So, he played 3 years of college ball. Played 13, 10 and 12 games and had 300, 227, 318 rushing attempts. Sounds durable to me. He didn't play much as a rookie, in part due to covid and then played in 17 games (46% of snaps) in 2021, which seems entirely reasonable given the presence of a very good RB in Aaron Jones. 187 rushing attempts (11/game) plus 37 passing targets is a nice workload for a backfield with a one-two punch.

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dobber's picture

June 27, 2022 at 09:29 am

RBs get hurt. That's the nature of their position. You need playable depth there.

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 27, 2022 at 12:14 pm

His name is Dillon, not Dillion. This is his 3rd year...you think you would know that by now.

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BAMABADGER's picture

June 26, 2022 at 05:02 pm

Here's hoping the Packers utilize both Jones and Dillion on the field at the same time.

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mrtundra's picture

June 26, 2022 at 06:11 pm

I wouldn't mind seeing Kylin Hill, after he recovers, or Patrick Taylor get more time at RB. Goodson and Baylor, our two UDFA RBs, could turn some heads, as well. Aaron Jones is a slasher, speed guy while Dillon is a power runner. Dillon is great on short yardage plays. We don't really know what Jones future, after this season, is in GB, do we? Use them all and pound the ball with Dillon bowling over defenders. Our running game is pretty solid. All our RBs can catch the ball, too. GO PACK, GO!!!

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LLCHESTY's picture

June 26, 2022 at 08:44 pm

I hope they find a way to keep both, I think they both have the potential to be a solid RB2 next year with Dillon. I'd also like to see them draft a smaller, shifty guy that can be split out of occasionally but that doesn't seem to be in the Packers wheelhouse. Goodson put up nice testing numbers but sounds like he spends to much time dancing to avoid contact.

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HawkPacker's picture

June 27, 2022 at 01:45 pm

LL you are exactly right about Goodson. He did a lot of that his last year at Iowa too.

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Turophile's picture

June 27, 2022 at 03:39 am

mrtundra.
I've 'carried the G' for Kylin Hill ever since he was drafted.

I'm hoping his ACL is far enough behind him now to show not only why he was drafted, but tp show he should have been taken rounds earlier than he was.

If Aaron Jones cannot be retained after this year (due to high cap number of $20m), Hill may well be the guy to step into in his place in 2023

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

June 27, 2022 at 06:11 am

I'm a Kylin Hill fan as well but admittedly fan of Taylor's too. The Packers have as good of RBs as they have had in a lot of years.

Two thoughts:

1. In short yardage situations, particularly at goal line should be Dillon more often than not. Jones can be the occasional surprise to keep the defense honest, but should be Dillon otherwise.
2. If the Packers know this is Jones last year with the team use him and extrapolate everything they can get out of him this year. A little less wear and tear on Dillon who we all hope can be a vital part of the team for the next 5, or 6 years.

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dobber's picture

June 27, 2022 at 09:27 am

"1. In short yardage situations, particularly at goal line should be Dillon more often than not. "

Agreed. It really forces a defense to commit to stopping him as a first priority.

"2. If the Packers know this is Jones last year with the team use him and extrapolate everything they can get out of him this year."

I think Jones plays a lot of snaps, but he'll be catching more balls and taking less of a pounding. I think the "use him up and let him walk" approach is more likely to leave him in the training room later in the season.

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PhantomII's picture

June 27, 2022 at 07:55 pm

I like the compliment of Dillon-Taylor....Jones-Hill. If they kept that rotation or similar skill set ML game plan should work with little adjustment....especially in the playoffs when it matters most. GPG

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PatrickGB's picture

June 26, 2022 at 06:13 pm

Jones is a bigger threat as a pass catcher and can break off longer runs when he gets free. Yet I think that AJ is improving in this area. He actually got more yards last season. I say, Ride the hot hand and see what happens.

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LLCHESTY's picture

June 26, 2022 at 08:39 pm

Not sure why you'd want the guy with the lower YPC to get more carries. This is Jones' last year, go with the hot hand and if it's Jones ride him til the wheels come off. He's getting paid like a lead back he should be used like one.

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GreenBaySmacker's picture

June 26, 2022 at 10:16 pm

I don't know why some are already pushing Jones out the door.

I do recall, before they resigned Jones. The need to actually pay the teams feature back to keep him around for years to come. The Packers actually did. He has performed well while avoiding injury for the most part. Now his time is coming to receive the bulk of the money promised to him, and people speak of giving him the boot. Wth?

Dillon is good. And I agree with using both backs according to their strengths. Both of them in the backfield at the same time is gonna be scary for opposing defenses. However, Jones is easily the better back IMO. The more proven, and the more valuable. He's faster. He has better vision. Better burst to and through the holes when he sees it. He's way more shifty. And as a receiver it's not even close. Not to mention a threat to take it to the house from anywhere on the field.

If the Packer's don't keep him around, we all will be wishing they did. Backs that are as versatile and reliable as he is aren't that easy to come by.

Dillon is a nice back. He is definitely stronger. Definitely better in short yardage. He's no Aaron Jones. And neither is Hill, or Goodson or Taylor or Baylor.

Let's appreciate them both for what they do. I just hope it's not always about the cheaper option. Which the Packer's have been really good about keeping the difference makers.

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NoNonsense's picture

June 27, 2022 at 01:17 am

When the team is good, it usually has a lot of highly paid players. With a salary cap, hard choices have to be made.

Are you willing to let Elton Jenkins go when his contract is up, for an example, to keep Aaron Jones next year at $20 million? How about Adrian Amos?

I really like Aaron Jones the player and the person. I wish his contract wasn't structured the way it is but 20 mil will be hard to swallow for a team already tight against the cap. If they can agree to a restructure or a pay cut then great but don't count on it.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 27, 2022 at 02:49 am

Well, if it hadn't been structured that way, he'd be playing elsewhere. Jones will get $20M in cash for 2021 and 2022, and GB accounted for $10.36M of that amount.

From GB's point of view, much depends on how the 2022 season transpires and what AR does in 2023. It would not be hard to knock down Jones' $20 cap number ($16M cash). From Jones' perspective, if he has a good 2022 and stays healthy, he won't turn 29 until December of 2023. He might be able to command a 3-year deal with a nice signing bonus elsewhere. Dillon will still be cheap in 2023, and even if they extend him he won't be really expensive in 2023.

Playing things by ear at this point.

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GreenBaySmacker's picture

June 28, 2022 at 11:08 pm

NoNon I don't want to see either of them go. I understand your point and get that decisions will have to be made.

With Jenkins, his injury and others' injuries on the line are seemingly a constant issue. The Packers are continuously replenishing the line through the draft with versatile players for that reason I think. It's likely they'll draft another 2 or so next year.

I hope they can work something out with Amos to keep him around. I'm guessing a ring, with a good chance to go back to back, would be a good selling point to stay for less money. It's almost certain the Packers are drafting a Safety next year though. I'm glad they made sure we have Savage next year at least.

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DragonSilk's picture

June 27, 2022 at 05:53 am

I love the idea of wearing down the defense by pounding Dillon for 3 quarters then bringing in a fresh Jones to make them look ridiculous.

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

June 27, 2022 at 07:51 am

I realize we’re reaching for things to write about at this time of the year, but let’s just forget the labels and use the backs where appropriate.

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dobber's picture

June 27, 2022 at 09:30 am

I want to see balance and diversity in snaps and play calls for the RB. I don't see a need for a "workhorse" ball carrier in this offense.

Big backs who profile like Dillon who end up playing for a long time in the league at a high level are pretty rare. RBs in general have a pretty early expiration date, and I would argue that successful backs are just as often the right marriage of skill set, insightful play calling, and good blocking. In those cases, when you watch around the league as starting backs get hurt, the backups step in and are quite productive--isn't that where we want this offense to be? The Packers could pound the hell out of Dillon in 2022--and the comment in the article:

"it stands to reason there could once again be a shortage of gaping holes for Green Bay’s backs to dash through in 2022. In that situation, it could be advantageous to more regularly give the ball to a guy who can push the pile."

--seems to argue for stubborn and unproductive play-calling. Why burn up a big back and expose him to a beating on play calls if you're not expecting more than 3-4 yards per pop? If the power-gap type runs aren't there or the line can't effectively pull them off, don't try to manufacture them. I'm hoping the coaching brain trust will be smarter than that.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 28, 2022 at 02:30 am

That's an interesting comment. So, pick one's spots on banging Dillon's head into mounds of defensive linemen. I watched some big backs like Brockington who had great success but relatively short careers.

Dillon and Jones both averaged 11 carries per game. That seems about right, and a repeat would be fine, especially if they can keep a healthy 3rd RB like Hill. Though I thought they would find some carries for Taylor last year and they didn't. I do expect Dillon to catch more passes this year, thus increasing his touches to match Jones' numbers.

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LLCHESTY's picture

June 28, 2022 at 05:36 pm

The one thing about the timeshare aspect for the Packers is you can resign them like they did Jones without too much worry about the hits adding up. Dillon would need to average 283.5 carries the next two years to get to 800 by the end of next year. That's not happening. If the cutoff for a RB's effectiveness is 1600 carries and he's not halfway there after 4 years he's probably worth resigning if he's a top back.

For comparison Ezekiel Elliott had 1169 carries for the Cowboys in his first four years.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 27, 2022 at 12:15 pm

Both backs have a different skillset and how they help the O depends more on the week to week opponent vs who is RB1 or RB2.

A comparison:
AJ = Horning.
AJD = Taylor.

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HarryHodag's picture

June 28, 2022 at 11:58 am

Hornung and Taylor are one example. Another example is John Brockington and MacArthur Lane. You can't put a label on #1 or #2, though Brockington was viewed as the top back.

There's a tendency today(I think fueled by geeks and social media) to pigeon-hole everything. I'm perfectly happy with Jones and Dillon as 1 and 1a, interchangeable and impressive.

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