The Packers Running Game Has a Chance to Be Special

The Green Bay Packers have had some outstanding backfield combinations during their 100-plus year history. Fans have fond memories of Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, John Brockington and MacArthur Lane, Dorsey Levens and later Ahman Green with William Henderson just to name a few.

But the 2020 Packers backfield has a chance to have their name added to the list of great Green Bay backfields. The potential is certainly there.

The Packers have an intriguing combination of talented players who can each add a lot to the mix. On paper, this has the potential to be the deepest and most diverse group of talent the Packers have had at running back in quite some time.

You start with Aaron Jones who gained 1,084 yards rushing last season while adding 49 catches for 474 more yards. He totaled 19 touchdowns during the regular season and added four more in two playoff games.

Jones has a career average of 5.0 yards per carry and with his speed and cutting ability, he is a threat to break a long run any time he touches the ball.

Oh, and did I mention Jones is in a contract year? That means he has extra incentive to excel this season whether he re-ups with the Packers or heads elsewhere in 2021.

Jones has worked hard to improve his receiving and pass blocking skills since his rookie season and he brings the right attitude to the field every week. It will be a challenge to match last year’s touchdown numbers, but Jones certainly has the potential to have another outstanding season.

Backup Jamaal Williams has been a steady force at running back for the last three seasons. He averaged a career-best 4.3-yards per carry last year while tying for the team lead with five touchdown catches.

Williams doesn’t have the elite speed that Jones brings to the table, but he is a determined between the tackles runner who excels on a sloppy field.

Williams is also the best pass protector among the Pack’s running backs which makes him more valuable to the team. He is also a reliable receiver and has good hands.

The Packers also love what Williams brings to the locker room. His enthusiasm is infectious and his dancing during pre-game warm-ups makes for some great videos on social media.

Williams is also in his contract year so he also has every reason to have a big season this year to help secure his future.

The Packers also added A.J. Dillon in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft. Dillon’s large thighs were the talk of the first day of training camp. At 6’0” and 247 pounds, Dillon is a load to bring down. The former Boston College star gained 1,685 yards rushing for BC last season while scoring a total of 15 touchdowns.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is enthused about what Dillon may bring to the offense. “He has got some massive legs,” LaFleur told ESPN.com. That’s something we talked about with our staff. We have not seen a running back built like that—not in my career, that I’ve been around. He walks around pretty comfortably at 250 for a back and he moves really well. Big legs, big calves. He’s a well built guy. It’ll be exciting to see him get up to speed mentally. That’s going to be his biggest hurdle, especially with the guys in that room who have a pretty good comfort within the offense. But he’s a big boy.”

Dillon will probably see work in short yardage and goal line situations early. The lack of preseason games and a full training camp will slow down all rookies this season, but rookie running backs usually adapt to the NFL faster than most other positions. How quickly Dillon shows he can pass protect and catch passes out of the backfield may determine how much playing time he gets this season.

While Jones, Williams and Dillon may be the top three backs, they are not the only weapons the Packers will utilize this season. Tyler Ervin is the favorite to be the Packers kick and punt returner but will also likely be on the field for a few packages in the offense.

Ervin’s speed and elusiveness make him an ideal candidate to run jet sweeps. The Packers will also look for passing plays that would be designed to get Ervin the ball in space where he can make people miss and turn short passes into longer gains. Expect a few plays per game designed to utilize Ervin’s skills.

Last year’s sixth-round pick, Dexter Williams is also back and has earned some praise from the coaching staff in the first few days of training camp. Williams showed solid running ability in the preseason last year but struggled to pick up his blocking and receiving assignments. If he has improved in those areas, he could surprise a few people in camp this year.

The tools are all there and the Packers have a solid run blocking offensive line in front of them. The Packers are unlikely be running the ball more often than they throw it this season, but if everybody stays healthy, this could be the Packers most outstanding backfield in quite some time.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (33)

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gkarl's picture

August 20, 2020 at 12:36 pm

I really like all our RB's and the options they provide. I can't wait to watch us run the ball TY, as you stated the tools are in place.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 01:06 pm

I do, too, gkarl. The tools are in place, now we just have to put it all together on the field. Thanks for the comment.

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 20, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Too bad Brockington and Lane played on such crappy teams. Could you imagine what they could have accomplished on the '96 or '10 Packers teams?

I also am high on this running back group. Has to be the best and deepest we've had in years.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 01:07 pm

Brockington and Lane had that one magic season in 1972. The defenses they had in those years were pretty good (in 72 they were great) but the passing game was among the worst in the league and don't even get me started about the coaching of Dan Devine.

This year's group shows a lot of promise. Let's hope they can get the job done on the field once the season starts.

Always good to hear from you, 13TimeChamps.

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 20, 2020 at 01:17 pm

Dan Devine....ugh!! I can't even imagine how many years that awful Hadl trade set the Packers back.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 01:53 pm

Yeah, it was a desperation move and it backfired big time. It was the Herschel Walker trade of its day.

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Bure9620's picture

August 20, 2020 at 02:23 pm

Its a deep group, Dillon was one of my favorite picks of the draft, he is going to be a monster, I think he contributes as a receiver as well. He was simply not asked to be a receiver at BC. Swerve is interesting as well, it could give a defense a lot different looks.....

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 01:54 pm

Exactly Bure9620. There are a lot of talented options on the roster. The key for Dillon will be if he can pick up blitzes and pass block because if he can't, MLF won't trust him out there very much. We shall see how quickly he gets on the field. Thanks as always for the comment.

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CoachDino's picture

August 20, 2020 at 05:16 pm

I couldn't agree more on the Key to Dillion in 2020, pass protect. Catching is one thing but until he is a reliable in PP he won't see the field in those situations.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 05:59 pm

Agreed, CoachDino. Dexter Williams had the same issue last year and the Packers played Tra Carson ahead of him when injuries sidelined Jamaal Williams. If you can't pass pro in Matt LaFleur's offense, your reps will be limited. Thanks for the comment.

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holmesmd's picture

August 20, 2020 at 10:59 pm

Dillon is certainly big enough if he is “willed” enough. They will also use TE’s in the backfield to pass pro. Which will allow for the some of the true RB’s to get out on routes for bubble screens and delayed swing passes and wheel routes. The multiplicity that ML has at his disposal is very intriguing . I’m a big fan of AJ but Dillon is one day going to be a monster. If defenses want to play dime when he’s on the field, good luck. He’s going to crush skulls and break wills if used properly. Everyone BC played last year knew he was getting the ball the majority of the time and he threw people off of him like they were small children. Get the popcorn ready.:)

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GilMartin's picture

August 21, 2020 at 04:52 pm

Thanks for the comment, holmesmd. I can't wait to see what this kid can do. Good luck to most safeties and nickel backs who are trying to tackle a 250-pound RB coming at them with a head of speed.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

August 20, 2020 at 02:05 pm

While not quite as exciting as a true passing offense I am very excited about our running game potential. Using the run to set-up the pass and vice-versa keeps defenses off balance. A solid running game helps out our defense by running the clock keeping our defense fresher. Our over-sized WR's bode well for down the field blocking.

Dillon is going to be a game changer for GB. I never understood the tantrums following the draft about our 2nd, and even our 3rd round draft choices.

Jamaal is certainly on notice and not so much because of Dillon, but because of our 6th round RB (Williams) last year. He showed tons of running talent and if his blocking and route running improved I believe Jamaalmight be traded, or at minimum not resigned after this year.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 01:56 pm

Yes, Dexter Williams needs to prove he can block and catch to have a chance to stick around this year. Jamaal could be moved to free up some cap space if the deal is right, but the coaching staff loves him and for good reason. Looking forward to seeing what Dillon can do with the football also. Thanks for the comment, KnockTheSnotOutOfYou.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

August 20, 2020 at 02:10 pm

Gil,
Agreed!

I too like Jamaal and love his attitude after a very tough upbringing. Most people would not be able to overcome. Rarely fumbles and just very good at everything a RB needs to do. A great back to have on the roster!

Dexter is an unknown but the little he played you could see some of Aaron Jones juke and change of direction talent with speed. How much has he mentally matured, and has he improved his game?

No matter what happens the Pack barring injuries are deep at RB.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 02:28 pm

Agreed KnockTheSnotOutOfYou and let's face it, depth will be critical in the NFL this season. Whether its injuries or Covid, players may not always be available for every game. The Packers have a lot of quality backs to choose from and that's a good thing.

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murf7777's picture

August 20, 2020 at 02:58 pm

I agree a great passing attack is preferred. Although, I’m excited to see how Rodgers does with the many play action pass opportunities he will get due to this stable of running backs.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 03:21 pm

It should be interesting, murf7777. Remember, Favre had some big years late in his career when the offense really centered around Ahman Green and his ability to run the football. Thanks for commenting.

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marpag1's picture

August 21, 2020 at 03:59 am

"While not quite as exciting as a true passing offense..."

I'm not really arguing, but truth be told, I love the hell out of a great rushing attack.

I'm not sure if it's really the best way to win in today's NFL. And it remains to be seen if Dillon is going to pan out. But I'll be positively giddy if we can do to a few other teams what the 49ers did to us last year. It's not so much about winning as it is destroying your opponent's will to live.

Of course my favorite college team is the Badgers, so maybe this isn't too surprising....

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GilMartin's picture

August 21, 2020 at 04:54 pm

I can more than understand why a Badgers fan would love a good running game. The beauty of having a great running game is that opponents can't stop it even when they know its coming. I remember John Riggins destroying opponents in Washington or Emmitt Smith with the Cowboys. Ahman Green or John Brockington back in the day with the Packers. Thanks for the coment, marpag1.

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Tundraboy's picture

August 22, 2020 at 11:48 pm

And a 250 rock at that. Loved Lacy but the weight was not this tyoe.

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Handsback's picture

August 20, 2020 at 02:46 pm

If you want a diverse offense, you have to be able to throw the ball when they know you're going to throw the ball and run the ball when they know you're going to run the ball. Any offense that can do that, will be able to keep defenses on the field and pound the daylights out of them. You start with Jones on those off-tackle slants, his speed and elusiveness makes the defense close the holes, until Dillon breaks a few tackles and gets chunks of yardage. To stop that you move the safeties closer for run support, and Rodger find a TE or FB running up the seam followed by a LB. To counter that a defense puts more safeties on the field and suddenly the WRs are getting opened and stopping Green Bay is no longer stopping the pass but beating the man across from you and stopping either a shifty back or a running back that will punish you when you tackle him.
Green Bay hasn't had a RB tandem that complimented each other since Horning/Taylor. Bennett and Levens came close but were very similar in running style. At least IMHO.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 02:51 pm

You make a good point, Handsback about the difference in styles with Hornung and Taylor. Lane and Brockington had similar styles as did Bennett and Levens although Levens was a little more elusive and Bennett ran better between the tackles. I love the potential of this group and hope we can see them help get the offense to the next level. Thanks for the comment.

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stockholder's picture

August 20, 2020 at 04:48 pm

It's been a Long Long Time. Doubt Barry sanders or Earl Campbell have come to Green Bay. But I can see why the Packers think the group can become special. Skills: What does it feel like to be good at everything but exceptional at nothing? I guess thats what I'm seeing. If it isn't. Why aren't we seeing the extensions now. Don't you Lock up your stars?

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 04:53 pm

You ask a good question, stockholder. I think the Packers will extend Aaron Jones. The questions surrounding the salary cap because of Covid-19 delayed that. Either way, the other issue is that running backs are devalued in the modern NFL. Many teams feel they are almost interchangeable. That doesn't change the fact that the Packers have a deep and talented group. But no, they don't have Barry Sanders or Earl Campbell. In the modern NFL, most teams don't feel like they need them. Thanks for the comment.

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CoachDino's picture

August 20, 2020 at 05:27 pm

I see some great comments on the board today. Keeping the defense on it's heels through scheme makes every player on the field better. IMO that's what the Packers are counting on by assembling a scheme fit team that can pass or run on offense out of multiple sets. The same goes for the defense with the way they use the DL and OLB. The sum is greater than the parts.

I'd love to see Jones and Dillion share snaps in standard sets, Williams and Jones share snaps on passing sets and back to Dillion on short yardage.

I'm thinking a hybrid Tenn/SF offense is the goal.

I'm getting fired up just thinking about it.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 06:01 pm

The potential is there to create a lot of confusion for opposing defenses. Even if it's just momentary confusion, that's often enough to get a step on a defender and get open. Thanks for commenting, CoachDino.

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4thand1's picture

August 20, 2020 at 05:29 pm

This team will be better than last year. I see Another NFCCG and winning with ball control. Dillon is going to be a monster and a home run pick. I think we are seeing why Gute didn't go WR crazy in the draft. Now lets hope for a season.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 06:07 pm

I am also excited to see this team this season. I agree the team can be better although the record may not reflect that. Still, I'd take a title with a 10-6 record like we did in 2010 over a 15-1 record and a first-round playoff loss like in 2011. Thanks for the comment, 4thand1.

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Lphill's picture

August 20, 2020 at 05:45 pm

I am excited about the offense but if the Packers can’t stop the run it’s not going to make much of a difference the Packers had a excellent run game last year but the 49ers knew their weakness and exploited it.

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GilMartin's picture

August 20, 2020 at 06:08 pm

It will be important to be at least average at stopping the run. The team can't afford to be at or near the bottom of the league. I hope the defense will improve in this area and I think Kirksey will help. Thanks for the comment, Lphill, always good to hear from you.

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Stroh's picture

August 22, 2020 at 11:56 am

If the running game is special this season it certainly won't be due to Jamal Williams. He's the epitome of JAG (Just A Guy). When your best skill as a RB is being a blocker, it certainly doesn't say much of your running skills. Nice player, good to have as a trustworthy backup, but at the end of the day, he is a JAG.

Jones and Dillon will be the RB who actually make the running game go. A strong inside (Dillon) / outside (Jones) threat. You can call it thunder and lightening if you want as well. JWill has a role but it won't be running the football.

Just have to hope Jones accepts a team friendly, Eckler type deal to stick around. A Dillon/Jones duo for the next 4+ yrs sounds great.

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alvarado's picture

August 27, 2020 at 10:20 pm

Backup Jamaal Williams has been a steady force at running back for the last three seasons.
https://2048game.io/

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