Emanuel Wilson’s growth and upside land him on the Packers 53-man roster

It was Emanuel Wilson’s upside as a ball carrier and growth as a pass blocker and special teams player over the course of training camp and the preseason that landed him on the Green Bay Packers 53-man roster.

“His growth and certainly where his upside is was certainly a part of the decision,” said Brian Gutekunst on Wednesday about Wilson.

As a ball carrier is where Wilson really stood out. He averaged 5.9 yards per rush, which was bolstered by an 80-yard touchdown against Cincinnati. His 11 forced missed tackles were the most among all running backs during the preseason, and he tied for first in rushes of 10 or more yards with five.

“He’s got really good vision,” said Matt LaFleur. “I thought he ran with really good contact balance. He was able to make people miss and showed some speed in the open field.”

While there is a certain prerequisite that each player battling for that third running back role must meet as a ball carrier, both Gutekunst and LaFleur were pretty adamant throughout training camp that special teams, pass-blocking, and pass-catching would determine who won that job behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.

With those requirements playing such a key role in the decision, it felt like both Gutekunst and LaFleur were telling us that Taylor was going to be the third running back without being so direct. Taylor finished second on the team this preseason in starting special teams snaps. He had more targets in the passing game than Wilson – nine to four – and is a more experienced blocker. LaFleur would even mention at one point that blocking and special teams are areas where Wilson has to be more consistent.

Right now, it’s still possible that Taylor is the better player in those aspects at this moment. But Wilson was able to show progress as a blocker and on special teams throughout the summer, giving the Packers confidence that he can continue to improve in those areas.

“He was significantly, probably far away early from the special teams and some of the other nuances of playing running back,” said Gutekunst, “but he really progressed through the last few weeks. He showed some special things in his opportunities.”

Perhaps the Packers were fearful of Wilson getting claimed on waivers if they were to release him and try to sneak him onto the practice squad. He’s a 225-pound back who’s a natural as a ball carrier in a running back market where teams are looking for inexpensive, high-upside players under team control. Wilson checks all those boxes.

Looking ahead to 2024, there are some unknowns within the Packers running back room. AJ Dillon is set to be a free agent as of now, while Aaron Jones could be in his final season as he comes with a cap hit next year north of $17 million. Wilson could be someone that the team leans on quite heavily at that time.

I wouldn’t rule out seeing Taylor at some point this season, especially early on, to help in those other areas with the roster flexibility teams have with the practice squad elevation rules. Wilson absolutely made the most of his opportunities this summer and now has the chance to make an impact right away on special teams and potentially take on a much larger role down the road.

“He’s still got a long way to go,” said LaFleur. “In terms of all that other stuff, adding value on teams and in pass pro. Just making sure that the trust is there that he will be able to pick up all the exotic pressures that you may see throughout the course of a season. But he’s a guy that’s worked hard since day one, and he’s learned from a good group in front of him.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire