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12 Days Until Training Camp: Running Backs Preview

Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams provided a top-flight tandem for the Green Bay Packers. Can Jones and AJ Dillon be even better?
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers training camp starts on July 27, with the first practice on July 28. Our Training Camp Countdown series continues with the second of our positional previews, the running backs.

Packers Running Back Depth Chart Quick Reads

Aaron Jones: Jones would have been the top running back on the free agent market. Instead, on the eve of the negotiating period, he inked a four-year contract to stay in Green Bay. A fifth-round compensatory draft pick in 2017, Jones has been nothing short of fantastic. In four seasons, he ranks tied for fourth in franchise history with 37 rushing touchdowns and 11th with 3,364 rushing yards. Jones’ career mark of 5.17 yards per carry ranks sixth in NFL history.

AJ Dillon: Last year’s second-round draft pick got only one real opportunity as a rookie. That came in Week 16 against Tennessee. With Jamaal Williams inactive, Dillon rumbled 21 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. It was a dominant performance. With Williams off to Detroit in free agency, Dillon figures to get a lot more opportunities as the new No. 2 back. A workhorse at Boston College, Dillon rushed for 1,685 yards in 2019 despite running into one loaded box after another.

Dexter Williams: A sixth-round pick in 2019, Williams got his big chance last year at San Francisco. With Jones coming back from injury, Dillon sidelined with COVID and Jamaal Williams out after being deemed a high-risk contact, Dexter Williams was elevated from the practice squad. He carried twice for 8 yards before suffering an injury that ended his night. He never saw the ball the rest of the season.

Kylin Hill: After rushing for 1,350 yards as a junior in 2019, the running game became an afterthought for new coach Mike Leach. He carried the ball 15 times and caught 23 passes before an early-season suspension and opt-out. Hill tied the school record with 15 catches vs. Kentucky and broke the school record for most receiving yards by a running back with 158 vs. LSU. The Packers picked him in the seventh round.

Patrick Taylor: Taylor was a star at Memphis with 546 rushing yards as a freshman, 866 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore and 1,122 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior. However, he suffered a dreaded Lisfranc foot injury in the 2019 opener. He returned at midseason but had a second procedure done before the 2020 draft. He went undrafted and didn’t play as a rookie.

Big Story Lines at Running Back

One: Over the last two seasons, Jones rushed for 2,188 yards, caught 96 passes and scored 30 touchdowns. The Packers re-signed him to a four-year, $48 million contract before free agency. For a team with major short- and long-term cap issues, it was quite the roll of the financial dice. At the end of the 2020 season, 10 running backs were averaging at least $7 million per season, with the first nine on their second contracts. Seven had lofty price tags of at least $12 million per season. It could be argued only three of those players was worth the price in 2020. If Jones keeps producing, he’ll be well worth the price.

Two: Dillon was a productive workhorse at Boston College. Presumably, based on his Week 16 performance vs. Tennessee, he’ll be a productive back for the Packers, as well. However, he’s got to prove it. He had only 46 carries last season; he had a 40-carry game in college. Moreover, he’s got to show he can consistently catch the football. He showed promise in that regard last season but, again, he’s got to prove it.

Three: Combined, how good can Jones and Dillon be as a tandem? Can they be as good as Jones and Jamaal Williams? Better? Dillon has sky-high expectations.

“I think we can be the best running back tandem in the NFL,” Dillon said as part of the accompanying video. “You look at us and you see thunder and lightning, which absolutely we are. But the lightning guy, Aaron, he can also grind out some yards. And the thunder guy, myself, I’d like to say I can still beat some guys running away from them.”

Four: Hill, Williams and Taylor will battle for the No. 3 job. With a three-down skill-set and draft status, Hill would appear to be the favorite. But, ultimately, none of the three have done anything just yet.

“I already told the guys that, as of right now, you look at it as though your one and two spots are set, and the No. 3 spot is wide open,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “It really won’t have a chance to work itself out until we get to the preseason and start playing some real football. But everybody, all those guys are well aware there’s an opportunity sitting there, and the other guys know, ‘Hey, don’t you sleep on the guys you feel are underneath you because you’ve also got to bring it every day, too.’ They all know their position is pretty much wide open and won’t be decided until we start playing real football.”

Running backs coach Ben Sirmans says

What will make the difference in the battle for roster spots and carries?

“Production. I tell the guys all the time, we’re not in a situation where I’m locking everybody up in a room, turning off the lights and saying whoever comes out the door, you’re the starter or you’re the backup. It’s what you do against the defense. How productive are you against the defense? The bottom line is they’re competing against each other but, in actuality, they’re competing against the guys lined up across from them. The guys that are going to be more effective against the guys lined up across from them, those will be the guys that’ll have that opportunity to move up in the depth chart, earn a roster spot, and play a lot in the game. There’s no real magical, ‘Man, this guy’s fast or this guy breaks (tackles.)’ It’s how productive are you when you’re in the game. That’s not only running the ball, it’s catching the ball, it’s how you are in protection, can we trust you in a game to do the right thing, so it’s all those facets that kind of make up our decision.”

Countdown to Packers Training Camp

Feature: Bronson Kaufusi's position change

Feature: Charles Woodson wants to become wine legend

Training Camp schedule

30 Days Until Training Camp: Potential cuts

29 Days Until Training Camp: First-year starting QBs

28 Days: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon and top running back tandems

27 Days: Record-setting red-zone dominance

26 Days: In Wisconsin sports, misery loves company

25 Days: Matt LaFleur's record-setting start

24 Days: The triumph of turnovers and the one that got away

23 Days: Jaire Alexander

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Ranking the Roster

Nos. 46-48: Randy Ramsey, Oren Burks, Ty Summers

Nos. 49-51: Jace Sternberger, Dominique Dafney, Hunter Bradley

Nos. 52-54: Yosh Nijman, Ben Braden, Simon Stepaniak

No. 55: Cole Van Lanen

Nos. 56-58: Isaiah McDuffie, Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai

Nos. 59-61: Kurt Benkert, Juwann Winfree, Malik Taylor

Nos. 62-64: Patrick Taylor, Dexter Williams, Isaac Nauta

Nos. 65-67: Ka'dar Hollman, Kabion Ento, Stanford Samuels

Nos. 68-70: Jake Hanson and two specialist challengers

Nos. 71-74: Christian Uphoff, Henry Black, Innis Gaines, Jake Dolegala

Nos. 75-77: Coy Cronk, Willington Previlon, Jack Heflin

Nos. 78-80: Delontae Scott, Carlo Kemp, Bronson Kaufusi

No. 81: WR Bailey Gaither

Nos. 82-84: WRs Reggie Begelton, Chris Blair, DeAndre Thompkins

Nos. 85-88: LBs Ray Wilborn, Scoota Harris; OL Zach Johnson, Jacob Capra

No. 89: G Jon Dietzen

No. 90: K JJ Molson