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Grading Packers on Salary Cap Curve: Jones and Running Backs

In the second of a series of season-ending report cards, we look at the Green Bay Packers’ running backs through the lenses of performance and the salary cap.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers hoped the running back duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon would help offset the loss of Davante Adams. That wasn’t the case, though that really wasn’t the fault of the Packers’ excellent one-two punch in the backfield.

Jones and Dillon combined for 2,492 yards of total offense – 1,516 by Jones and 976 by Dillon. That was up a bit from last year’s total of 2,328 yards.

With that as a backdrop, here is Part 2 of our annual series of player grades as viewed through the lens of the salary cap. All cap figures are from Analytical stats are from Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions.

Aaron Jones ($5.95 million; ninth among running backs)

Aaron Jones had a tremendous season by anyone’s standards and especially his own. Jones ranks seventh in NFL history in yards per carry. He’s ahead of the likes of Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders. So, Jones has set the bar high and he mostly met the challenge.

He wasn’t great in 2021, when he rushed for 799 yards (4.7 average) and four touchdowns and added 52 receptions for 391 yards (7.5 average) and six touchdowns in 15 games. It was a troublesome downturn in production. Or so it seemed. In 2020, he averaged 5.5 yards per rush and 5.9 yards per touch and had a 10-yard run rate of 12.7 percent. Playing under a new contract in 2021, he averaged 4.7 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per touch and had a 10-yard run rate of 9.3 percent.

Jones, however, was tremendous in 2022 with career highs of 1,121 rushing yards and 59 receptions. His averages surged to 5.3 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per touch, and his 10-yard run rate soared to 14.5 percent. He played all 17 games, a nod to his toughness.

This season, 38 running backs had at least 120 carries. Despite not being a big guy, he ranked 11th with 3.20 yards after contact per attempt. So elusive and so surprisingly powerful, only the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs beat Jones’ missed-tackle rate of 22.1 percent.

Football Outsiders has a metric called success rate that examines each run on a down-and-distance basis. Obviously, a 3-yard run on third-and-2 is different than a 3-yard run on second-and-12. Jones ranked 32nd last season but sixth this season.

The two black eyes on his season: Fumbles (a career-high five) and drops (an NFL-high and career-worst six).

When Jones re-signed on the eve of free agency in 2021, his four-year, $48 million contract really looked like a two-year deal. Coming off a strong season, it seems clear that Jones will see at least Season 3.

Grade: B-plus.

AJ Dillon ($1.44 million; 45th among running backs)

After rushing 187 times for 803 yards (4.3 average) and seven touchdowns in 2021, Dillon carried 186 times for 770 yards (4.1 average) and five touchdowns in 2022. So, pretty similar.

With three seasons under his belt, Dillon is who he is: a rough-and-tumble runner who will always leave you wanting just a bit more.

This season, 38 running backs had at least 120 carries. Dillon ranked 34th with 2.90 yards after contact and 28th with a broken tackle on 8.1 percent of his carries. For such a powerful, athletic man, wouldn’t you like to see him run through a tackle or two to get into the open field to make a defensive back have to keep him out of the end zone with more regularity?

His long run this season went for 27 yards. After touchdown runs of 20 yards vs. the Eagles and 21 yards vs. the Bears in back-to-back games, his longest run the last four games went for just 11.

However, after going 10 consecutive games without a touchdown, he scored six in the final six games. And he ranked fifth in Football Outsiders’ success rate.

He actually regressed significantly as a receiver. In 2021, 40 backs were targeted at least 35 times. Dillon ranked third in catch rate (91.9 percent), eighth in YAC per catch (9.2) and eighth in drop rate (2.9 percent; one drop) while catching 34 balls for 313 yards and two scores. In 2022, Dillon caught 28-of-39 passes for 206 yards. Of 31 backs to be targeted at least 35 times, Dillon ranked 29th in catch rate (71.8 percent), 17th in YAC per catch (7.4) and last in drop rate (15.2 percent; five drops).

Grade: C.

Patrick Taylor ($183,333; 151st among running backs)

Between roster elevations from the practice squad and stints on the 53-man roster, Patrick Taylor played in 14 of a possible 17 games. He carried 10 times for 31 yards and caught one pass for 17. He had a key blitz pickup and the lone catch in Week 16 at Miami, then ran the ball five times for 10 yards a week later against Minnesota.

Sure, the Packers would love a more dynamic player. Maybe that will be rookie Tyler Goodson, an undrafted free agent who spent the season on the practice squad. But you could do a lot worse than Taylor, a reliable player capable of performing on first, second and third down as well as on special teams, where he had two tackles and some key blocks to spring Keisean Nixon in 122 snaps.

Grade: C.

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