Running backs don’t get the same love as they did in the 1980s. In today’s NFL world, it is all about the high octane passing attacks. Running backs are overshadowed by quarterbacks and wide receivers. Still, a potent rushing attack opens up the passing game and can help balance out an offense. That is what the Green Bay Packers rushing attack does for their offense. Here is a preview of the Green Bay Packers running backs heading into the 2021 season.
Green Bay Packers Running Backs Provide a Variety of Options
When Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was hired one of the first things he said is that he would emphasize the running attack. It wasn’t just lip service, he has lived up to his promise. Helping LaFleur keep his word has been the group of Packers running backs that general manager Brian Gutekunst has assembled for him. Each running back brings a different element to the position.
The top two running backs seem to be cemented going into the season. But the battle for the third spot is up for grabs. Here is a preview of the Packers running backs for the 2021 season.
When the 2020 season concluded, all signs pointed to the departure of Aaron Jones. Heading into free agency, it appeared that the Packers wouldn’t be able to afford their top running back. But to the surprise of most, Gutekunst and the Packers re-signed Jones to a new contract. The new deal guarantees that they will have their top rushing threat for 2021.
When it comes to needing a big play in the Packers rushing game, Jones is the one the Packers turn to. In the past two seasons, Jones has combined to rush for 2,188 yards with 25 rushing touchdowns. The former fifth-round selection of Ted Thompson has turned out to be one of the biggest playmaking running backs in the NFL.
Jones has been a threat as a runner, but he also has contributed as a pass-catcher. Playing in LaFleur’s offense the past two seasons, Jones has combined to catch 96 passes for 829 yards with five touchdown receptions. Jones is the most dual-threat player out of the Packers running backs. Expect Jones’ role to expand even more in 2021. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones line up more in the slot to give Rodgers another pass-catching weapon.
With Jones returning, it meant that Jamaal Williams, last season’s number two running back, wouldn’t be returning. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Gutekunst spent a second-round pick on AJ Dillon. That selection, along with the re-signing of Jones, meant that Williams was expendable.
Jones’ new running mate will be Dillon, a powerful running back who showed a small glimpse of what he is capable of doing in 2020. He was limited to 11 games last season, missing almost a month after dealing with COVID. Overall, he rushed for 242 yards on just 46 carries with two rushing touchdowns. The highlight of 2020 for Dillon came late in December. In the snow at Lambeau Field against the Tennessee Titans, Dillon carried the ball 21 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers are hoping that type of output will carry over to 2021.
Filling Williams’, who is now with the Detroit Lions, shoes won’t be easy for Dillon. Dillon will be an upgrade as a runner, but Williams did a lot more things to help the Packers. Along with being a key member of the Packers special teams, Williams was a capable pass catcher and above-average pass protector. It is doubtful that Dillon will play much on special teams, but he will need to show that he is capable in pass protection as well as able to catch the ball.
Expectations for Dillon will be very high going into 2021. Not only will he be replacing the most dependable Packers running back, he will also try to prove that he was worth the second-round pick Gutekunst spent on him in 2020. Here is a fantasy outlook for Dillon heading into 2021.
The Battle for the Third Spot
It appears that there will be three players vying for the Packers number three running back spot.
Dexter Williams has the most experience out of the three prospects. Although, that isn’t saying a lot. The former 2019 sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame has carried the ball seven times for 19 yards in his two professional seasons. Coming out of Notre Dame, Williams one cut running ability seemed like a great fit for the Packers zone-blocking running scheme. However, things haven’t clicked for Williams. He has bounced back and forth from the active roster to the practice squad throughout his career. Training camp will be important for Williams. If he struggles, his time as a Packer might be coming to an end.
Patrick Taylor will also be competing to backup Jones and Dillon. On paper, this will be Taylor’s second season with the Packers. But in all actuality, it will be his first. He spent all of last season on injured reserve. In his last season at the University of Memphis, he suffered a foot injury. That injury not only caused him to go undrafted but also forced him out of action in 2020. Now, fully healed, he is hoping to replicate what he did in his junior season at Memphis. Out of the three candidates, Taylor is the biggest back. He also has the build to contribute on special teams.
Rounding out the group of candidates is rookie running back Kylin Hill. The Packers selected Hill in this year’s draft in the seventh round. Similar to Taylor, he had a better junior season than a senior season. But that could have been due to a coaching change that occurred after his junior season. Many draft experts lauded Gutekunst for landing Hill in the seventh round. He is an explosive ball carrier with above-average receiving skills.
Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Patrick Taylor are on the Packers active Roster. Kylin Hill will be signed to the practice squad while Dexter Williams will be cut.