The season is young, but there is deep concern about the future of the Packers Running Back position. A.J. Dillon was drafted to maintain the depth of the position and be the future of the team. Immediate regression has been apparent and signals a need to re-evaluate the entire position group. A.J. Dillon is not the answer to the long-term needs at the Running Back position. The Green Bay Packers will need to completely rebuild the Running Back room.
A.J. Dillon is Not the Answer
There were immediate concerns about Dillon on draft weekend. The Packers had many needs after a 2019 season that was generally successful. The Packers reached the NFC Title game but finished 17th in passing yards and 15th in rushing yards. The defense had been a problem, allowing 37 points to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Blake Martinez left and the Packers entered 2020 with Christian Kirksey and undrafted Rookie Free Agent Krys Barnes at the Inside Linebacker positions. The Packers were rolling into one last run with Kevin King at the Cornerback position. With Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams holding down a steady backfield, this did not appear to be an area of need.
The Packers took Dillon in the second round, just four picks before Antonio Gibson. In the area just after Dillon, teams selected Safety Jeremy Chinn and Linebacker Logan Wilson. Drafting a Running Back made some sense as Williams and Jones were approaching contract years, but Dillon was projected to be available in the third to fifth rounds. The value of the pick did not make sense at the time and has not paid out horribly well.
Dillon was a high volume Running Back at Boston College. He did well in that role. He managed to average 5.2 yards per carry over three seasons. However, this took its toll. Dillon had two seasons with 300+ carries. For comparison, Ron Dayne did that once in four years at Wisconsin. Bijan Robinson never hit 300 carries (his highest was 258). Derrick Henry had one high carry season at Alabama but only had 205 carries in his first two seasons combined.
The basic concept is that running backs tend to have a limited number of carries. There are some statistical analyses that make the point that carries in college may not matter, but the overall banging is concerning. Players like Aaron Jones get carries, but his running style leads to more tackles from being tripped up or glancing blows. Dillon is very much a head-on tackle. His size also means many players are coming in at thigh and knee level.
Dillon had his breakout game against Tennessee in his rookie season. On a cold day, he turned 21 carries into 124 yards and two touchdowns. That was the only 100+ yard performance in three full seasons now. In fact, he has only had two other games of 100+ yards from scrimmage. Meanwhile, Jamaal Williams had 1,066 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Lions last year.
Additionally, Dillon’s success rate has now fallen under 50%. While he managed a 61.0% success rate in 2021, it fell to 56.5% in 2022. Through two games in 2023, Dillon has put up a mere 42.9% success rate. Dillon has never been particularly good at lateral movement. Making sharp cuts is not his game. The Packers run game seems intent on making plays to the outside, which takes Dillon’s power out of play and makes him have to make plays in space. Additionally, Green Bay has been insistent on using shotgun formations in short-yardage and goal-line situations. This, again, takes away the ability of Dillon to get downhill.
Dillon Is Not the Future
With Aaron Jones kicking off his seventh season as a 28-year-old Running Back, A.J. Dillon is the next face of the backfield. He was the plan for the future. Dillon is the reason Williams was allowed to walk without even an offer. Now, the Packers are sitting with Patrick Taylor and Emanuel Wilson waiting in the wings.
In a contract year, this is the make-it-or-break-it season for Dillon. His continuing regression makes it incredibly likely the Packers will have to completely rebuild the running back room before the 2024 season. If the Packers are going to try to be competitive in the running game, A.J. Dillon is not the answer.
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