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. 35: RB AJ Dillon (6-0, 247, rookie, Boston College)
AJ Dillon might shake his head in disbelief when he lines up behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time in a regular-season game.
At Boston College, Dillon wore a bull’s-eye. Last season, he ran into loaded boxes on 44 percent of his carries. In this year’s draft, Dillon was one of 13 backs drafted in the first four rounds. Here are the loaded-box rates, according to Sports Info Solutions:
LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire; first round, Chiefs: 12 percent.
Georgia’s D’Andre Swift; second round, Lions: 21 percent.
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor; second round, Colts: 20 percent
Florida State’s Cam Akers; second round, Rams: 13 percent.
Baltimore’s J.K. Dobbins; second round, Ravens: 10 percent.
Boston College’s AJ Dillon; second round, Packers: 44 percent.
Memphis’ Antonio Gibson; third round, Redskins: 9 percent.
Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn, third round, Buccaneers: 25 percent.
Utah’s Zack Moss; third round, Bills: 15 percent.
Appalachian State’s Darrynton Evans; third round, Titans: 25 percent.
UCLA’s Joshua Kelley; fourth round, Chargers: 19 percent.
Florida’s Lamical Perine; fourth round, Jets: 11 percent.
Maryland’s Anthony McFarland; fourth round, Steelers: 13 percent.
Miami’s DeeJay Dallas; fourth round, Seahawks: 23 percent.
Chances are he’s not going to face nearly as many loaded boxes with Rodgers slinging the ball.
“The fact that Aaron Rodgers is quite a weapon, as we all know, there’s going to be a lot of two-deep coverages to take away the receiving game,” Brian White, who coached Dillon at Boston College and is now at Colorado State, told Packer Central. “I would think that should open up some lanes for AJ. If you give him a crease, people are going to be surprised at how fast he is. He can hit the home run and he can bruise you and bump you and grind on you, but he can score. He can score from a long ways. The fans are going to Green Bay are going to really enjoy watching this guy play football.”
Dillon is a big man blessed with some rare traits. At the Scouting Combine, Dillon weighed 247 pounds but ran his 40 in 4.53 seconds. With that freakish skill-set, college defensive coordinators were hell-bent on limiting his production. With 1,685 rushing yards in 2019, it seemingly didn’t matter.
“I like to help my team win. So, whether that’s running around people, through people, over people, I’m there to get it done,” Dillon said upon getting drafted. “I love football. I love playing running back; obviously, I’ve been playing it my whole football career. So, I have an opportunity to further that career, do it at a great place, a great organization, be a part of that. I just can’t wait.”
There are three questions. One is for the here and now: How much work will Dillon receive behind the established duo of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams? They combined for 25 of the team's 44 touchdowns last season.
The others are more long-term. The first is workload. Dillon ran the ball 845 times in three seasons at Boston College. Unless he’s a freak like Adrian Peterson, a running back can only take so much abuse, whether he’s 207 pounds or 247 pounds. The econd is his ability to catch the ball. He caught only 21 passes in three seasons. From White to Packers scout Mike Owen to Dillon himself, everyone says Dillon can catch. But, on a third-and-3 in the fourth quarter of a close game, can he adjust to a slightly off-target ball, make the grab and get the first down? The answer to that question not only will determine his level of success in the NFL but perhaps the futures of free agents-to-be Jones and Williams.
While offensive coordinator at Tennessee, coach Matt LaFleur had a tandem of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Henry, who also weighs 247 pounds, had a breakout season of 1,059 yards in 2018 with LaFleur before a dominating and league-leading 1,540 yards in 2019.
“I don’t want to compare AJ to Derrick other than the fact they’re both big humans that run really fast,” LaFleur said. “I think any time you’ve got a big back in cold-weather places, toward the end of the season when teams get a little bit beat up, that’s a challenge to tackle. We’re excited about his skill-set, what he brings, how explosive he is. The other thing that you never really got to see from him is I do think he’s got some versatility in the pass game. He’s got really natural hands.”
Why he’s got a chance: Not to turn this into a fantasy football piece, but it’s hard to believe LaFleur won’t feel inclined to give Dillon some goal-line action. Jones had a remarkable season with NFL-leading totals of 16 rushing touchdowns and 19 total touchdowns. Moreover, Green Bay had one of the worst third-and-short rushing attacks in the NFL. As is the case on the goal line, a 247-pound back has a chance to gain the yards the line failed to provide.