Deep Group of Backs Could Fill Long-Term Need for Packers
INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL Draft isn’t only about filling today’s needs. It’s also about taking care of tomorrow’s needs.
For Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, the list of immediate needs is considerable on a team that was one step from the Super Bowl. The inside linebacker corps needs speed, the receiver corps needs an infusion of talent, the offensive line might need a right tackle and the defensive line needs bolstering.
Those are the needs for 2020. Looking ahead, the running back tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are entering their final season under contract. Jones, coming off a monster third season with the Packers, could be in line for a massive payday if he can stay healthy and put together a comparable encore. The Packers have long-term cap concerns, and second-contract running backs often aren’t worth the money, as evidenced by the lackluster seasons of David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell – the most expensive running backs in the league in 2019.
This year’s draft class of running backs is fantastic. Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Utah’s Zack Moss, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Florida State’s Cam Akers form a Superior Six. Of that group, Moss is a senior and the others are juniors.
Here they are, in our order of preference heading into Friday night’s workouts, with comments from Wednesday’s media availability.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (5-9 1/2, 209): Dobbins had a remarkable career. In three seasons, he rushed for 4,459 yards and caught 71 passes. He topped 1,000 yards in each season, including 2,003 yards (6.7 average) and 21 touchdowns on the ground and 23 catches for 247 yards and two more scores through the air to finish sixth in the Heisman Trophy race in 2019. He finished his career with 5,104 scrimmage yards.
“I always work for the spotlight moments (but) it's about what I do outside of the lights,” he said of his performances in big games. “When the lights aren't on me, there are things that I do to try to be ready for when that time comes. Prime time isn't always really prime time to me. It's like a normal day at the office because I work so hard for it. So whenever it comes to those games, I'm very prepared for it.”
Zack Moss, Utah (5-9 3/8, 223): Moss piled up 4,067 rushing yards, 38 rushing touchdowns and 66 receptions during a superb four-year career. The yardage and touchdown totals set school records. As a senior, he produced career-high totals of 1,416 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns and 13.9 yards per catch; his 28 receptions were one off his career high. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and earned some All-American honors. He had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons to cap his career.
“I’m a guy that you never have to take off the field. In my time at Utah, I was used on third down and fourth down. If it was passing, blocking, fourth-and-1, no matter what it was, I was always on the field. So, everything that you need a guy to do in the backfield, I can definitely do.”
D’Andre Swift, Georgia (5-8 1/4, 212): Swift earned first-team all-SEC honors with 1,218 rushing yards (6.2 average) and seven touchdowns and 24 receptions for 316 yards and one more score. In three seasons, his 2,885 rushing yards rank seventh in school history. He also posted an impressive 73 career receptions. He averaged a school-record 6.56 yards per carry for his career.
“There are a lot of great backs in this class, but I think I’m the most versatile. I think I’m a three-down back, and I can do whatever I’m asked to do. God gave me a lot of ability. I don’t take that for granted. I work hard every day, and I’m a leader.”
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (5-10 1/4, 226): Taylor had one of the great careers in college football history with a three-year total of 6,174 rushing yards (6.7 average) and 50 touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for 2,003 yards (6.3 average) and 21 touchdowns and added career highs of 26 catches, 252 yards and five scores to be a unanimous first-team All-American. His 26 total touchdowns led the nation. He twice won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back. He’s the only player in NCAA history with three seasons of 1,900 rushing yards.
“One of the biggest things is being effective on third down,” he said of what he needs to show. “A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is. Coach (Paul) Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”
Cam Akers, Florida State (5-10 3/8, 217): Akers had the best season of his career in 2019 with 1,144 rushing yards (5.0 average) and 14 touchdowns, 30 receptions for 225 yards and four more scores to earn second-team all-ACC. His three-year totals included 2,875 rushing yards – sixth-most in school history – and 69 catches.
“Just an all-around running back. Somebody’s who’s, of course, able to run the ball but another important aspect of running back is being able to block also. I just think I’m a complete back from catching to blocking to running.”
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU (5-7 1/4, 207): Edwards-Helaire had a monster junior year with 1,414 rushing yards (6.6 average) and 16 touchdowns and 55 receptions for 453 yards and one more score. The Tigers’ team captain was first-team all-SEC and a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. His three-year rushing total was 2,103 rushing yards. Based on draft history, his height could take him off the Packers’ board.
“I feel like every question was answered this year. Every week it was always something, ‘Does he have breakaway speed?’ And then bust an 80-yard touchdown. ‘Can he make a guy miss?’ Made plenty of guys miss. ‘Is he going to show up Bama game?’ Ultimately, all the questions were answered, so I feel like my resume is all checked out.”