OPINION: Backfield Will Carry Green Bay in 2020
The performance of a position in the Green Bay Packers backfield will once again be critical to the overall team’s success this season, but it may not be at the position under center with the number 12. Luckily, Green Bay may have one of the deepest rosters of young talent at this slot in the league.
That position is running back, and Green Bay enters the season with a wide array of skill sets to deploy among their runners on the opening day roster.
Leading the pack with likely the lion’s share of the carries will be the NFL’s reigning touchdown-scorer Aaron Jones. His 19 touchdowns combined between rushing and receiving scores were emblematic of both his versatility and nose for the end zone. Despite tallying over 100 more carries than 2018 for a total of 236, Jones maintained a yards-per-carry of 4.6. He also saw an expanded role in the receiving game, being targeted 68 times for 49 receptions, a 9.7-yard average per reception and adding 474 yards through the air to get his total yardage to 1,558 in 2019. At his best, Jones has proven to be a fringe Most Valuable Player/Offensive Player of the Year candidate that is poised to once again be a valuable target for Aaron Rodgers on all three downs.
Penciling in as the second-string back will be Jamaal Williams, who was drafted 48 slots ahead of Jones in the 2017 NFL Draft and split the primary role with him ever since.
Williams had his highest career yards-per-carry average last year, with a 4.3 average. He was also a productive safety valve for Rodgers in a pinch as a receiver, finishing third on the team in receptions behind only Davante Adams and Jones with 39 and five scores. In an interview on the Pat McAfee Show last week, Rodgers made a point of commending Williams’ offseason work.
“You know a lot of times the big jumps come between years one and two and two or three. This guy’s going into his fourth season, coming off a year last year where he had multiple games in a row with touchdown catches, and is an important part of our offense,” Rodgers said. “Aaron Jones obviously had a ton of touchdowns last year but Jamaal is a big part of what we’re doing. And I think he kind of saw what Aaron did and said ‘I need to come back and be a little bit bigger factor in the receiving game.’ Because you need two backs in this league. So I think Jamaal has had a fantastic camp and I’m excited about what he’s done. And the thing that he does as well is he just brings so much energy to a football team. So he’s gonna be an important part of what we’re doing.”
Behind Jones and Williams in the event they sustain injury or need to be spelled are two more intriguing options that also figure to make the rotation. Green Bay’s second round pick in 2020 was used on A.J. Dillon out of Boston College, who looks like he was constructed in a running back factory. Especially after the Packers’ experience with their last second-round running back Eddie Lacy, Dillon looking the part is certainly a positive sign.
While not as much of a receiver, Dillon proved to be a tough player to bring down while tallying double-digit scores and a yard-per-carry average of at least 4.9 in each of his three seasons in college. He has potential to one day attain the lead back role, but may see some short-yardage work this season as well.
The final versatile option in the rotation may be Tyler Ervin, whose breakaway speed makes him a threat to score any time he touches the ball in the rushing, receiving or return games. Early reports from camp suggested he was spending more time with the receivers, but Ervin saw time last season out of the backfield as well as split wide last year. He adds yet another dimension to a Packers backfield that figures to run past, around and through their opponents in year two of the Matt LaFleur offense.