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Packer Over/Unders: Running Backs

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Packer Over/Unders: Running Backs

As we continue looking position-by-position at the Packers’ roster through the lens of gambling, we’re brought to the running back group, one of the most nebulous on the team.

The running game was a major concern at this time last year for some fans. With the departure of Eddie Lacy, Ty Montgomery was the only returning contributor, and his conversion from wide receiver was still in its infancy. A year later Green Bay fans have plenty of reason for optimism regarding a group of talented, young backs who performed well in their rookie seasons.

As a whole, the Packers finished 2017 as a very good running team, ranking fifth in the league in average at nearly 4.5 yards per carry. That figure is somewhat bolstered by the running threat of quarterback Brett Hundley, who averaged 7.5 yards per rush on his 36 carries, but the running back group was still dangerous, even in an offense that posed little passing threat while Aaron Rodgers recovered on the bench.

Football Outsiders rates players and teams by various original metrics, the basis of which is the fact that football is a situational game, so the definition of “success” varies by situation (i.e. a 4-yard rush on 3rd-and-3 vs. on 3rd-and-10). By this kind of measure, Jamaal Williams was the 12th best back among those with at least 100 carries last year. This shows that the BYU product may have been a more reliable chain-mover than his 3.6 yards per carry average may indicate.

Fellow rookie Aaron Jones didn’t have enough carries to qualify for the same Football Outsiders ranking, but he was the best in the NFL among backs with fewer than 100 carries. But then again, Jones’ small-sample success last year was hardly a secret.

Jones displayed the vision and explosiveness to be a big-play threat, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in limited playing time. When he missed time, however, the other backs had a hard time picking up larger chunks of yardage.

According to Football Outsiders, the Packers ranked below average in second-level (19th) and open-field (24th) yardage, metrics that attempt to separate running back talent from offensive line quality when looking at rushing success. This illustrates how important Jones will be to the Packers’ offense in 2018. While Williams and Montgomery are solid and versatile contributors who can get the job done, only Jones can scare opposing defenses as a home-run threat.

Aaron Jones under 4.50 yards per carry

As good as Jones was last year, it’s simply unrealistic for a back to maintain that kind of average over [*knocks on wood*] an entire healthy season. Even with his crucial big-play ability, anything over a 4.0 average would have to be considered a success in Jones’ second year. Only eight qualifying running backs surpassed 4.50 yards per carry last year, but Jones has set the bar high for himself.

Aaron Jones under 150.5 carries

Based on last year’s production most Packers fans believe Jones should be the primary running back in 2018. But Mike McCarthy insists all the backs will get their opportunities, implying a more even division of labor than some may like. The fact that Jones is suspended the first two game of this season won’t help, either. It’s reasonable to assume there will be between 300 and 400 total carries by running backs this season (314 last year), so I’m not sure Jones can get enough work in 14 games.

Ty Montgomery over 120.5 offensive touches

So many fans have seemingly moved on from Montgomery, but I still like his versatility and talent, and McCarthy seems to, as well. He totaled 94 touches in eight games last year, so a relatively healthy season should allow him to surpass 120 easily. Still, the success of Jones and Williams last year has left Montgomery as the forgotten man in some fans’ eyes. But the Stanford product is only 25 years old and has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his three NFL seasons. His receiving skills mean that 40 catches would be a reasonable expectation. If he’s getting any amount of consistent carries, as McCarthy promised, he should be a big part of the offense again.

Jamaal Williams over 29.5 receptions

Lost in the discussion about Montgomery’s versatility is the fact that Williams was the group’s leading pass-catcher last year with 25 receptions for 262 yards. Williams’ pass protection is well-regarded by the offensive coaching staff, so he should see plenty of third-down repetitions.

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Matt Kelley is a staff writer for Cheesehead TV. He can be found on Twitter via @hustleandheart1

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (7) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bure9620's picture

Pretty much think these numbers will be close to right on. I really like the problems Aaron Jones and Ty montgomery present to defenses but Williams IS the best in pass pro which is soooo important in this offense. I also think Ripkowski could be utilized in pass protection somewhat as well. Also, lets not sleep on Devante Mays. I think he figures it out in year 2. He was the most physically impressive of the rookie backs last summer and I think he has a strong traning camp forcing BG to keep him on the 53. If the Packers can truly run the ball effectively forcing defenses to respect it and have a stable of backs that can be receivers out of the backfield, it makes Aaron Rodgers nearly unstoppable off of play action.

Barnacle's picture

Over, under, under and over. MM likes Williams and not Jones. Jones could run like Emmit Smith and MM would stubbornly go with his gut and rotate lesser talent in to prove his genius?

Oppy's picture

Jamaal Williams had a total of 11 carries through week 9 in 2017, never getting more than 4 carries in a single game to that point, and for good reason- he wasn't running very well. Ty Montgomery was getting most of the snaps.

Aaron Jones became the primary back by week 4 when Ty Montgomery's ribs could take no more, and Jones was the bell cow through week 9. During those 4 games (week 8 was a bye), Aaron Jones had 62 carries.

It was early in Week 10 that Aaron Jones suffered the knee injuries (MCL sprains in both knees) that kept him sidelined for the next two weeks, and then only used sparingly the rest of the season. It was after he was pulled from the game that day that Jamaal Williams got back on the field and started pulling primary RB duties. Thankfully, Williams looked much improved over his early season form.

At any rate, I don't know how you can come to the conclusion that "MM like Williams and not Jones" considering the facts that surround the RB usage last season.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I was writing very positive things about Monty last July, and I haven't seen anything that changes my opinion of him. Even if one of Mays/Bouganon has a fine camp and preseason, it still figures to be the Monty and Williams show for the first two games.

What has changed is that Monty's competition for touches has proved some things. He might need to create some stir in those first two games. I still want to see GB go from 11 personnel to 10 without changing personnel or allowing the defense to substitute. Chicago's D is fairly good, and MN's might match up better than most with Smith at safety and Kendricks and Barr at LB. Going without a RB against MN's pass rush depends a bit on the OL and Lewis.

Football starts soon!

PAPackerbacker's picture

Nice to have good depth at running back. There will be injuries, and when one running back is out because of an injury it's nice to know that the next running back can step up and make a positive impact and keep the sticks moving forward. The talent is there in the backfield to keep the defenses honest and turn the offense into more than just a one dimensional team. Go! Pack1 Go!

SterlingSharpe's picture

I'm very excited about this trio of RBs, other than the fact that all 3 seem brittle.

PREDICTIONS:

Aaron Jones: 14 games
156 carries, 733 yards, 4.7 avg, 3 rush TD

Ty Montgomery: 13 games
126 carries, 517 yards, 4.1 avg, 5 rush TD

Jamaal Williams: 12 games
73 carries, 309 yards, 4.2 avg, 2 rush TD

Pass receiving is the key.
Jones & Montgomery should be BIG weapons as backs outta the backfield, especially with the threats at TE of Jimmy Graham & Marcedes Lewis, and the slot/versatile ability of Randall Cobb.

If Philbin does a great job this year, those RBs are going to be huge assets as receivers.

Samson's picture

None of the 3 RBs who end up on the 53 will be true 1st stringers. --- This Packer "O" needs a 1st string RB instead of the injured and less talented that seem to exist every year. --- I know AR would love it.

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