GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 23: RB Jamaal Williams (6-0, 213, fourth season, BYU)
Everyone likes stars, such as Aaron Jones.
Everyone likes shiny new toys, such as AJ Dillon.
With more than 1,500 total yards and a league-leading 19 total touchdowns, Jones cemented himself as a top-tier running back in the NFL during a breakout 2019 season. With a bruising style and breakaway speed, maybe Dillon – a second-round draft pick – can become a No. 1 back, as well. With a big personality but understated style, Williams might never be a so-called bell-cow back. Still, not unlike Jones, last season was a big one for Williams.
“Jamaal Williams, he brings so much energy, so much juice,” coach Matt LaFleur said late last season. “He's a tough, physical, hard-nosed guy. He's tough to bring down, he breaks tackles. I think he's done a great job in the pass game, as well.”
Entering 2019, Williams’ career average of 3.72 yards per carry was 1.78 yards less than that of Jones. Put another way, Williams had 60 more carries than Jones but 156 fewer yards.
Williams, however, flourished in LaFleur’s zone-based running attack. In fact, he had the best season of his career in terms of yards per carry (4.30), receptions (39) and total touchdowns (six). Without the flash of Jones, Williams seems so ordinary. After all, Jones had 25 rushes of 10-plus yards last season compared to 27 in three years for Williams. But Williams runs hard, catches the ball (one drop vs. 66 receptions the past two seasons, according to Sports Info Solutions) and is excellent in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, his average yards after contact on rushing plays has gone from 2.29 yards as a rookie in 2017 to 2.63 in 2018 and 2.81 in 2019, and he went from six missed tackles on receptions combined his first two seasons to 12 last season. His five touchdown receptions tied for the most ever by a Packers running back. He was a rock in pass protection with just one pressure allowed compared to eight last year, according to PFF.
“I felt like when Jamaal was out, you could see our team feel it a little bit,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said of Williams’ late-season shoulder injury. “He’s such an important part of not only our running game, but he’s an excellent pass blocker. He’s probably the best pass blocker we have on the football team right now from the backfield.”
Having hit playing-time thresholds, the former fourth-round pick got a raise to $2.13 million for 2019. He’ll be a free agent at season’s end.
Why he’s got a chance: Running back is a brutal position. Jones’ stardom was delayed in part by missing eight games in his first two seasons. Even if he plays all 16 games again, Jones can’t do it alone. Williams has experience in the scheme and proven three-down production. Dillon has no experience in the scheme and was an afterthought in Boston College’s passing game.
“Jamaal rises to competition,” Jones said during an offseason Zoom call. “I mean, every day we go to practice, and we bring the best out of each other. Just because another person is coming in doesn’t mean he’s going to stop doing what he does. He’s going to continue to work. He’s going to continue to work on his craft, and continue to compete and get better and push the guys around him.”