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Second-string running back Jamaal Williams was a key contributor to the Packers’ backfield rotation the last two seasons, logging 418 offensive snaps and 150 touches in 2020 and 373 offensive snaps and 146 touches in 2019, per Pro Football Reference.
With Williams now in Detroit, second-year running back A.J. Dillon is the top backup to Aaron Jones.
To get an idea of what to expect from Dillon in 2021, let’s take a look back at his rookie season:
Dillon’s rookie season revisited
When the Packers selected Dillon with the 62nd pick in the 2020 NFL draft, many were anticipating a larger workload for the rookie running back. Last year, the second-round pick saw the field on 97 offensive snaps or 9% of offensive plays. With a limited workload, he was quite effective, averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 46 attempts. In 10 of the 11 games Dillon played in last year, he totaled five carries or fewer. His breakout performance came in Week 16 vs. the Tennessee Titans when he rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
Why he might break out
In a small sample size, Dillon flashed impressive power and contact balance, as well as solid vision and patience. He was rarely brought down by first contact and consistently churned out tough yards. For a big back, he looked surprisingly nimble. Last year, Dillon didn’t get many chances to showcase his long speed – his longest run was only 30 yards – but his college film and 4.53 40-yard dash time show that he has it in his toolbelt. If given more carries and opportunities to get his 247-pound frame moving downhill in a hurry, he could rip off many more explosive runs.
Head coach Matt LaFleur has shown he’s willing to carve out a sizable role for his No. 2 running back, as evidenced by Williams’ 40% offensive snap count last year and 35% figure the year before. Losing Williams means 150 touches and 418 offensive snaps need to be replaced. Dillon’s only real competition for carries off the bench will probably come from seventh-round rookie Kylin Hill, so he should have plenty of opportunities to showcase why the Packers felt he was worth a second-round pick.
Why he might not break out
What remains an uncertainty is Dillon’s ability to contribute in third-and-medium and third-and-long situations. Williams was a good pass blocker and a capable receiver out of the backfield. Those were big reasons why he was able to get on the field for over one-third of the Packers’ offensive snaps the last two years. We don’t know that Dillon can provide comparable third-down value because we haven’t seen it.
Dillon caught just two passes for 21 yards last season and didn’t see much third-down work. He has the frame and temperament to excel as a pass blocker, but wasn’t asked to do it much as a rookie. In college, he was seldom used as a receiver as well. Jones is very effective near the goal line, so that could cap Dillon’s short-yardage utility a little bit. Despite all those factors, he should still get plenty of rotational work to keep Jones fresh. If Dillon can add significant value on third down, he could see the field on something like 40% of offensive plays even with Jones starting.