While the Green Bay Packers’ selection of AJ Dillon in the 2020 NFL Draft didn’t turn as many heads as the Jordan Love pick, many were surprised when the Pack opted to draft a meat-and-potatoes running back in the second round instead of a wide receiver.
A year later, one thing is certain: Dillon can play. And with Jamaal Williams gone, Dillon is all but a lock at the second running back slot behind superstar Aaron Jones. This won’t be an All-Pro year for Dillon. However, the upcoming season will prove critical in the Boston College alum’s quest to become a staple running back in the NFL.
By no means did Dillon have a full season in 2020. The 23-year-old played in 11 games, rushing for 242 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and scoring two touchdowns. That stat line includes a 142-yard day in a Week 16 win against the Tennessee Titans where Dillon was handed the rock 21 times and scored twice. Dillon was the primary back in that game, with Aaron Jones getting only 10 carries following a week of limited reps in practice due to an injury.
But Dillon didn’t see more than five carries per game the entire season outside of that game. Much of that was due to Williams, who was as quality a No. 2 running back the team has seen in recent years. Williams (along with Jones) played in 14 games throughout the 2020 season, rushing for 505 yards and two touchdowns.
Williams is gone now, signing with the Detriot Lions in free agency. And while we wish him well, there’s no doubt that the Pack view Dillon as a part of their future more than they ever did with Williams.
Take Dillon out of the 2020 picture; Green Bay still would have had arguably the best one-two punch in the NFC North with Jones and Williams. The team easily could have kept Dillon on the sidelines, similar to what they did with Love, waiting for the opportunity to ease the Quadfather into NFL play.
Yet they didn’t, for two reasons. One, the Packers knew that Williams was likely out the door and recognized that Dillon would be the guy in 2021. And two, Dillon has the potential to be an immediate threat. As his nickname implies, the 6’0″, 247-pound back is an absolute wrecking ball. A majority of his carries last season came on third down. That combined with his 5.3 yards averaged yards per carry should tell you something.
In fact, if you compared Williams and Dillon’s stats last year, there isn’t too much that doesn’t support the argument that Dillon will be the power back of the future. Both men scored two touchdowns, and Dillon’s 5.2 yards per carry one-upped Williams’ 4.2 yards. Yet the biggest gap comes in attempts and total yards. Williams was gifted the rock 119 times and totaled 505 yards. Dillon had fewer than half the attempts of Williams (46) and still managed 242 yards while playing only 11 games (in comparison to Williams’ 14). The amount of bread that Dillon baked with the little dough he was given is quite impressive.
What will the backfield look like?
This isn’t a piece prophesying that A.J. Dillon will be a 1,000-yard rusher with 15 touchdowns next year. That’s what Aaron Jones is for. Dillon brings something even more valuable to the table when he is playing his best: checking off the final box of offensive threats for the Packers.
It’s obvious that the Packers have a downfield threat with Aaron Rodgers at the helm and Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Co. lined up. Aaron Jones has proven time after time that he can be a flashy pass-catcher who can also run to the outside for yardage. Yet the team has longed for an old-school running back who can punch the ball up the gut for seven yards to put the team in a position to air it out on second down.
Insert A.J. Dillon.
Dillon’s Big 10 style of running (yes, I know he’s a Boston College guy) is not only appreciated by Green Bay but will fit in nicely this season. The team is bringing back tight end Josiah Deguara from an ACL injury along with elite blocker Marcedes Lewis. These two, in addition to a stacked offensive line, make it awfully hard for Matt LaFleur not to add some power running to the offensive spreadsheet.
We’ve seen Dillon do it extremely well in college and have had a taste of his dominance courtesy of last year. This season will provide not only a breakout opportunity for the young gun but the potential for a true dual-threat offense in Green Bay.