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Previewing Packers OTAs: Running Backs

The Green Bay Packers have a great one-two punch with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Who will round out the depth chart?

GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers, the road to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., will begin this week with the start of offseason practices.

To be sure, nothing will be settled during two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, the mandatory minicamp, and one more week of OTAs. Still, what happens on the practice field will set the stage for the start of training camp in a little more than two months.

This series of positional previews continues with the running backs.

The Sure Thing: AJ-Squared

Is there a better one-two punch in the backfield than Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon? If there is, it’s a short list.

“It’s a luxury,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said, “because you can keep them both fresh throughout the game and then toward the end, you can either throw A.J. in there to pound and wear the defense down, or put Aaron in and, all of a sudden, the defense is worn down and it’s an explosive play. Having a blend of both those guys, that will continue throughout this upcoming season.”

Surprisingly re-signed last offseason, Jones put together his third consecutive season of 1,100-plus total yards and 10-plus total touchdowns. While he rushed for only 799 yards on a 4.7-yard average in 2021 – down sharply from 1,104 yards and a 5.5 average in 2020 – he caught a career-high 52 passes. He is a dynamic three-down threat, with explosiveness as a runner and the ability to be more than a checkdown/screen threat as a receiver.

Dillon thrived in Year 2 with a team-leading 803 rushing yards. While he averaged a modest 4.3 yards per carry, he ranked No. 1 in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ rushing success rate. A nonfactor in the passing game at Boston College, he caught 34 passes for 313 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, 44 backs were targeted at least 35 times. Dillon ranked third in catch rate (91.9 percent) and eighth in YAC per catch (9.2).

For such a big, athletic man, he needs to get much more explosive with the ball in his hands. His 10-yard run rate of 4.8 percent ranked last out of the 50 backs with 100-plus carries.

“There were some opportunities right there that we missed on that could have been big, explosive runs,” Sirmans said. “For us, it’s making sure that everything’s put together from details, footwork, that could have led to bigger plays by him. He’s got that type of ability because he can actually make you miss in the open field. He’s faster than most people think. He’s got the ability to put a little juke on you, even for a guy his size, so it’s really just bringing all those different facets of his game, just bringing those attributes together and let him apply them. I think he will have more explosive runs this year.”

The Big Mystery: Who’s No. 3?

Kylin Hill, a seventh-round pick last year who won the No. 3 job with a strong training camp, suffered a torn ACL in a midseason game at Arizona. When will he be ready to compete in training camp?

Patrick Taylor was a disappointment last summer but carried 11 times for 53 yards and one touchdown in the finale at Detroit.

They are really small sample sizes, but Hill carried 10 times for 24 yards (2.4 average) and averaged 1.9 yards after contract, according to PFF, while Taylor carried 23 times for 89 yards (39 average) and averaged 3.04 yards after contract. Taylor forced six missed tackles to zero for Hill.

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Worth Watching: Undrafted Rookies

Throw Oregon State’s B.J. Baylor and Iowa’s Tyler Goodson into the No. 3 mix, as well. The 2021 numbers are fascinating. According to PFF, Baylor forced 19 more missed tackles on runs than Goodson despite getting 29 fewer attempts. Goodson, on the other hand, caught 31-of-38 passes with one drop to Baylor’s 8-of-12 with two drops.

Can Baylor catch? If so, he could be a find. “Some of the things that I talked to him about was being able to catch the ball a little bit more away from his body,” Sirmans said. “Once we start our JUGS rotation that we utilize with all our running backs, I’ll have a better feel for that, his ability to catch the ball.”

Green Bay Packers OTAs Previews

Aaron Rodgers and the Quarterbacks

Jones, Dillon and the Running Backs

Allen Lazard and the Receivers

Robert Tonyan and the Tight Ends

Injured Knees and the Offensive Line

Kenny Clark and the Defensive Line

Gary, Smith and the Outside Linebackers

Campbell, Walker and the Inside Linebackers

Three Lockdown Cornerbacks

Amos, Savage and the Safeties