GREEN BAY, Wis. – Who has the best personnel in the NFC North?
We took that question to a high-ranking scout whose focus is pro personnel. He ranked each team’s position groups. Part 2 of this 10-part series focuses on the running backs, a position group with no shortage of talent.
No. 1: Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison power one of the NFL’s elite rushing attacks. Cook finished 10th in the NFL with 1,135 rushing yards, 19th with 4.59 yards per carry and fourth with 13 rushing touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, out of 45 backs with at least 100 carries, he was 20th with 3.06 yards after contact per carry. Plus, he caught 53 passes. His dynamic open-field ability was evident in the Week 2 game at Lambeau Field, when he burst through a hole, juked safety Darnell Savage and raced 75 yards for the touchdown. He is a three-down back who’s in line for a big free-agent payday after the upcoming season.
Mattison, a third-round pick from Boise State, added 462 rushing yards and ranked 15th with 4.62 yards per carry and 13 with 3.22 yards after contact. When both players were injured for the Week 16 showdown in Minneapolis, the Vikings’ offense was sunk and Green Bay clinched the NFC North with a 23-10 win.
No. 2: Green Bay Packers
After playing in only 24 of a possible 32 games in his first two seasons, Aaron Jones showed he could stay healthy, carry the load and be a legit three-down back last season, when he ranked 12th in the NFL with 1,084 rushing yards, 17th with 4.59 yards per carry and tied for first with 16 rushing touchdowns and 19 total touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, he was 14 among players with at least 100 rushes with 3.19 yards after contact per carry. After catching 35 passes for 228 yards and one touchdown in his first two seasons, Jones caught 49 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns last year. As is the case with Cook, Jones has put himself in position for a big payday as he enters the final season under contract.
Jamaal Williams also thrived in coach Matt LaFleur’s zone run scheme, with 460 rushing yards and career highs of 39 receptions and five receiving touchdowns. After averaging 3.6 yards per carry in 2017 and 3.8 yards in 2018, Williams averaged a 29th-ranked 4.3 yards in 2019. Of that, he ranked 25 with 2.86 yards after contact. With the addition of powerful rookie A.J. Dillon in the second round, who thrived despite repeatedly running into loaded boxes at Boston College, the Packers have the potential to field one of the best backfields in the league.
No. 3: Chicago Bears
Montgomery made a name for himself as a tackle-breaking machine at Iowa State. He didn’t play to expectations as a rookie, though. The third-round draft pick was 19 with 889 rushing yards and 41 with 3.67 yards per carry. According to Pro Football Focus, he was 44 out of 45 running backs with at least 100 rushes with 2.33 yards after contact per carry.
Pint-sized Tarik Cohen does a bit of everything as the backfield’s counterpuncher. He’s at his best in the passing game, with 203 receptions for 1,554 yards in three seasons.
No. 4: Detroit Lions
The Lions grew tired of waiting for Kerryon Johnson’s potential and used a second-round draft pick on Georgia’s explosive D’Andre Swift.
Johnson ranked just 46 with 403 rushing yards and 44 with 3.57 yards per carry. According to Pro Football Focus, he was 31st among players with at least 100 rushes with 2.70 yards after contact per carry. A second-round pick in 2018, he’s played in only 18 of 32 games.
Swift played at the same Philadelphia high school as Packers rookie offensive lineman Jon Runyan. In three seasons at Georgia, he rushed for 2,885 yards, averaged a school-record 6.56 yards per carry and added 73 receptions. Johnson and Swift are joined by former Alabama bruiser Bo Scarbrough, who went undrafted and bounced around a bit before potentially finding a home in Detroit. He rushed for 377 yards (4.2 average) in just six games.