The Lass Word: AJ Dillon is Built to Handle the Load

Unlike Aaron Jones, coaches shouldn't have to worry about wearing him out..

If both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams wind up walking away from the Packers this offseason, second year man AJ Dillon figures to inherit the job of featured running back.  And Dillon’s emergence could bring back a concept the Packers have lacked since the days of Eddie Lacy, namely, the workhorse back.   

 

With Jones, the coaching staff felt compelled to protect him from getting rundown by limiting his touches.  Jones usually sat out several possessions, beginning as early as the second or third series in most games, and played sparingly throughout so as to be fresh for the 4th quarter.   He carried the ball more than 16 times only twice in 2020, 18 against Detroit in week two, and 20 against Carolina in week 13. 

 

Being conservative with Jones also helped assure he would be available down the home stretch of the season and into the playoffs.  The concern was warranted, as Jones proved somewhat fragile his first two seasons, missing four games each in 2017 and ‘18.  He missed two more contests in 2020 and was knocked out of the NFC Championship game in what might have been his final appearance in a Packer uniform. 

 

There won’t likely be any such concern with Dillon.  Quite the contrary, at six feet tall and 247 pounds, Dillon is built for heavy usage and dealing out punishment rather than taking it.  His huge thighs have already produced a degree of celebrityhood.  As the old cliché' goes, he gets stronger as the game goes on.  At Boston College, as a freshman, he carried the ball 300 times in 13 games, an average of over 23 carries a game.  Even with all those rushes, he still averaged 5.3 yards per carry and powered in for 14 touchdowns. 

 

As a sophomore Dillon ran the ball 227 times in 10 games, an average of over 22 per outing.  He averaged 4.9 every carry and 10 scores.  Then as a junior he racked up 318 attempts in 12 games, averaging over 26 totes per contest.  During that season, he had five  games where he carried the ball 32 or more times, including a 40 carry game against Florida State.  Yet he still averaged 5.3 yards per rush, scored 14 touchdowns, and added 14 pass receptions and another score. 

 

Can that durability and production translate to the NFL?  Packer fans got an indication in week 16 against Tennessee.  On a snowy night at Lambeau, Dillon carried the mail 21 times for 124 yards, an average of an eye-opening 5.9 per rush.  He scored two touchdowns, one of which he broke through a leg tackle and showed impressive burst for 30 yards to the end zone.  He never ran the ball more than six times in any other game because the Packers didn’t need him, as Jones and Williams got the work.  Dillon finished the season with 242 yards on the ground, averaging 5.3 per try, second on the team among running backs to Jones 5.5 

 

Dillon lacks the explosion of Jones, but he’s not slow.  In fact, it may surprise you to know that he ran a faster 40 at the Combine than Jones or Jamaal Williams.  He ran a 4.53.   Aaron Jones did a 4.56, and Jamaal Williams posted a 4.59.   Coaches also insist he catches the ball well, though he was not used as a pass catcher at Boston College. 

 

Assuming the loss of Jones and Williams, Green Bay would need a slasher, scatback type as a change of pace.  No doubt the team will look to the draft, probably in the mid to late rounds, to address the issue.   

 

But Dillon is more than ready to carry the load if his time has come.  Feed the beast.  He’s built for it. 

 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (29)

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Condoriano's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:33 pm

Nice article Ken

Just don´t get: "Assuming the loss of Jones and Williams, Green Bay would need a slasher, scatback type as a change of pace."

Why not another bulldozer running back to wear defenders down all game long? Or better, force defenses go big to stop big running backs!!
Big but slow defenders will be a full plate for Rodgers and Adams.

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Stroh's picture

February 18, 2021 at 07:07 pm

Cause tackling different types of runners creates a new sort of issue. Runners with the same style are likely to read plays the same way. If you have a power runner and a slasher the defense will have trouble adjusting when the slasher gets the ball.

Presumably the slasher would be better in the passing game as well. Its best to have complimentary players each with unique qualities instead of identical ones.

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Minniman's picture

February 19, 2021 at 02:51 am

And add to that the fact that MLF likes Rodgers to use his check downs to TE and RB’s instead of scrambling. He also runs them in tight formations and likes his crossing\rub routes - that’s the domain of the scat-back.

....... see Dusty, some of us do pay attention!

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DragonSilk's picture

February 19, 2021 at 06:35 am

Best possible outcome would be keep Jones and Dillon. I love Williams but he's really just a Dillon light. I know , "the cap the cap the cap. Screw the cap for a couple years and suffer the consequences after we've won a couple Super Bowls. Jones and Dillon would be the best running back combination since Taylor and Hornung.

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Handsback's picture

February 18, 2021 at 04:12 pm

Green Bay has to have a RB that can move the chains. If not getting to the SB will be an elusive dream.

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Stroh's picture

February 18, 2021 at 09:54 pm

Dillon is the ultimate move the chains RB. Jones is a big play type, not really a move the chains kinda guy

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4thand10's picture

February 19, 2021 at 05:13 pm

Agree, I think they can keep Williams...his pass blocking and catching is pretty good. His RB skills and special teams is good as well...he is a value player to me . Dillon and Willams along with a scat back..either via draft or FA and I would be good with that.

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TXCHEESE's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:07 pm

He carried the ball 21 times in ONE game, not 16, so I don't necessarily think he has proven to be an NFL work horse. GB has been pretty successful with using multiple backs, the last couple of years, and I believe that's by design. Jones is a home run hitter and though he's not built like Williams and Dillon, he is a very physical runner. Don't get me wrong, I'm really excited for what Dillon will bring to this offense.

Here's hoping they can sign either Williams or Jones again, and keep the party going.

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Stroh's picture

February 18, 2021 at 07:17 pm

Maybe Dillon hasn't proven in the NFL, but he most certainly did in college and that one game in the NFL. So let's assume that he is. His track record absolutely qualifies him.

Jones runs hard no doubt but he is NOT physical. He doesn't punish defenders even if he doesn't avoid contact.

I'm certain the Packers would love a tandem of Dillon and Jones, but Jones not accepting the fair contract he was offered doesn't make that likely. The Packers will not give an injury prone, smallish RB much in guaranteed money. It just won't happen, nor should it!

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splitpea1's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:50 pm

Having a reliable receiving threat out of the backfield to complement Dillon is essential; that's not to say that Dillon can't catch the ball, but he had a grand total of two receptions in obviously limited opportunities. Meanwhile, Jones and Williams had 78 between them, 26 of them going for first downs. So all of that production is going to have to be somehow replaced or redistributed if they don't end up signing either one.

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Stroh's picture

February 18, 2021 at 07:22 pm

They will draft a complimentary RB if Jones leaves. Dillon can do anything in the passing game Williams can. He showed good hands and was a reliable receiver. There will be plenty of RB in the draft to take Jones role as a more dynamic runner and receiver

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wildbill's picture

February 18, 2021 at 09:13 pm

Agree with you but the need for good pass blocking is a must

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NickPerry's picture

February 18, 2021 at 07:00 pm

I love Aaron Jones but if he is looking for the $14.4 million a year as Sportac is suggesting or even close to that then IMO it's not a realistic option OR a good way to use the limited space they create after the restructured and extensions to existing players contracts.

My draft crush right now is Demetric Felton. Felton was a RB at UCLA but he lined up all over the field on offense. At the Senior Bowl he showed a lot out of the slot. He would be the PERFECT replacement for Ervin IMO and he could be the "Slasher" Ken is talking about running the ball.

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Stroh's picture

February 18, 2021 at 07:25 pm

Jones was offered top 5 RB money by the Packers. The Packers (smartly) wouldn't give him the guaranteed money he wanted.

Jones role won't be difficult to find in the draft.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 19, 2021 at 07:22 am

They could also pick up a guy like James White for probably a good price too.

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Gee's picture

February 19, 2021 at 02:02 pm

That's one option I'm all over, but I have a strong belief he's going to join Brady in T.B for peanuts. I can even see just over vet minimum, with incentives. Ugh

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albert999's picture

February 18, 2021 at 07:40 pm

Love Demetric Felton
Sleeper draft steal

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Gee's picture

February 19, 2021 at 02:03 pm

Where is he projected to go?

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 19, 2021 at 04:24 pm

If you and Nick Perry are singing his praise trust me he is no sleeper!

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 18, 2021 at 07:46 pm

I'm on board the D-train. They will need to pick up two other backs, but he can be a #1. I don't think the Packers need to spend another premium draft pick for the position.

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Since'61's picture

February 18, 2021 at 08:46 pm

I like Dillon. I believe that he can be an effective back for the Packers but I am not yet convinced that he is a bell weather like Lacy or Ahman Green.

He was a good back in college but he did not play in a very strong conference either. There is a big difference betwen a full season of NFL hits rather than college hits. I’m also not sure of his pass blocking yet.

I would like to see Dillon get an increasing number of carries as we progress through 2021. I would enjoy seeing him run behind Deguara in short yardage and goal line.

As for Dillon’s durability time will tell. Thanks, ‘61

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Stroh's picture

February 18, 2021 at 09:59 pm

He was extremely productive even against stacked boxes that were only focused on stopping him. He took more hits than probably any RB in college. Even more than say JT at UW.

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Since'61's picture

February 19, 2021 at 09:36 am

Stroh - I agree that he was an effective RB. I don’t how many hits he took during his college career. Except for a few minutes once or twice a season I have not watched a complete college football game since 1986.

However, I accept that he took a high number of hits in college because I know from your posts that you follow college football closely.

First, a college season is shorter than an NFL season. Second as you and all of us know the speed and ferocity of NFL hits are significantly higher than the majority of college hits.

Most importantly, there are only so many hits anyone can take and given that he has already taken a significant number of hits in college it’s a legitimate question as too how many hits he has left. Which is why I posted that the Packers should gradually increase his number of carries as the season goes on.

Now if we lose both Jones and Williams during the off-season the Packers may not have a choice but to utilize Dillon as their featured back. Time will tell but I still prefer the approach of having a back like Jones while we build a lead and then bring in Dillon to pound at a tiring defense in the second half and keep moving the chains. Rather than exposing either back to the majority of hits as the season wears on. Stay well.
Thanks, Since ‘61

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murf7777's picture

February 19, 2021 at 07:13 am

Do we really need a “bell cow”? Most successful teams utilize 2 or 3 RB’s. With Dillon on board, the RB position is one of my least positions to worry about. Not only will he exceed 1000 yards rushing he showed he is a very capable catcher. There will be many FA veteran RB’s available On the cheap this year. In addition, using one of their many late draft picks could bring another successful back. “Dime a dozen”? I believe so.

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PatrickGB's picture

February 19, 2021 at 09:20 am

This year I expect to see the H-Backs more involved. Perhaps it’s going more like what the Niners do. The offense will look different. I wonder if the offensive line is up to the task of being a more run oriented scheme? For decades this team has fielded a line that could pass block for Rodgers.

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Since'61's picture

February 19, 2021 at 09:40 am

Patrick, I believe this is why the Packers drafted Deguara, to be their HB. Since he was injured early in 2020 we really didn’t get to see that aspect of the MLF offense.
Hopefully we will in 2021 assuming Deguara returns fully healthy. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Gee's picture

February 19, 2021 at 02:06 pm

Man with him and Daffney blocking for Dillion, on early downs would be awesome. I get the wearing them down for the fourth, I'll take that, but if they can smash smaller bowes early, oh baby.

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bccoop's picture

February 19, 2021 at 02:05 pm

Seems to me we can't afford jones who i love we should sign Williams an draft another back. Williams should be reasonably priced and is good back ,with Dillon its a nice12 punch

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 19, 2021 at 04:30 pm

Jones can walk for all I care. J. Williams would be nice to keep but not critical. These two would be great spots to save on cap space and pick up compensatory picks. I am ever confident the Pack will find a couple of competent RB's should the tandem of Jones and William's leave.

The Pack have much greater needs by far at OT, DL, OLB, ILB, and CB.

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