Post-Draft, Looking on the Bright Side Series – Part 1
By acquiring A.J. Dillon, the Packers just got tougher. The 6-foot 247-pound bruiser told the press he’s “good to go,” and I don’t doubt it in the least.
The big three touted rushers in this draft, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D’Andre Swift, and Jonathan Taylor were all taken by overall pick 41. Cam Akers went in the middle of Round 2, and Dillon became the fifth RB chosen, at #62.
Say what you will, but for a four-year stretch, from 2013 through 2016, the Packers possessed one of the league’s most fearsome offensive players, Eddie Lacy. It was pure delight to watch would-be tacklers bounce off Eddie’s huge thighs as he left defenders in his wake. Eddie brought about a new respect for a team that had long been viewed as non-physical and easily intimidated. Lacy is also a nice guy – it’s a shame he proved to have gimpy ankles and an eating disorder.
TP’s Ed Rooney has previously profiled the 247-pound workhorse (here). All three of his seasons at Boston College were fine ones, and he saved the best for his final year: 1,685 rushing yards, a 5.3 average, and 14 TDs.
Dillon was honored as ACC Rookie of the year as a 19-year old freshman, then won All-ACC honors as a sophomore despite playing in only 10 games, and then gained all-conference honors and was named third-team AP All-American in his final year. Though he won’t turn 22 until May, I feel he’s ready to make an immediate impact in the pros.
How does a heavyweight like this manage a 4.53 dash time (Lacy’s was 4.58) and a 41-inch vertical leap? Suffice it to say he’s got a rare physique, and it’s all muscle – he was recently measured as having only 5 percent body fat.
How big is Dillon? His Combine weight was 16 pounds more than Lacy’s! How tough is Dillon? Sports Info Solutions ranked him fourth in the nation in causing 43 missed tackles and seventh with 943 rushing yards after contact.
I agree with Ed Rooney that Dillon has starting running back potential. I’d even take it a step further. I’ve often fantasized over the Packers having a “Thunder and Lightning” run attack. With Aaron Jones providing the lightning, and Dillon the thunder, I wouldn’t mind this duo being sent onto the field together from the outset of this season.
While the Packers did not have a pressing need for a running back, I’m confident that Dillon is a significant upgrade over Jaamal Williams. The popular Williams has been a welcome surprise as a fourth-round pick in 2017, but he’s never been more than a mid-talent role player.
I can envision a couple or reasons the Packers expended a high draft choice on a running back. The Packers remain in a tough salary cap situation. If they can’t find the money to pay Aaron Jones $10 million or so per year beginning in 2021, they’ll still have a talented runner on the roster at a fraction of what it would cost to retain Jones.
Derrick Henry Comparison
The other reason relates to where coach Matt LaFleur was in 2018 – he was in Tennessee, calling plays for the Titans’ offense. LaFleur had a ball carrier, Derrick Henry, who Dillon might soon be drawing comparisons to. Though three inches shorter than Henry, Dillon weighs the same.
Henry rushed for 1,540 yards last season, seemingly coming out of nowhere to be the top ground gainer in the league. However, Henry actually began his breakout play under LaFleur in late 2018. In Tennessee’s final four games, La Fleur called his number 87 times, and Henry responded by gaining 585 rushing yards. Henry averaged 146 yards in these final four games, three of which were Tennessee wins. He also scored seven touchdowns. LaFleur got a close-up view of how a bruising running back can dominate a defense.
Start Him Now!
Guetekunst invested heavily in picking Dillon so early in the draft. By all Indications, Dillon is ready to contribute immediately. Here’s a guy fresh off of a very busy and outstanding college career.
You might recall that Eddie Lacy wasted no time establishing himself when he arrived in Green Bay. He churned out over 1,100 yards on the ground in each of his first two years, and he even hauled in 77 passes for almost 400 more yards. He was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Like Lacy, Dillon enters the NFL as a fully developed workhorse – these are the kind of runners who don’t depend a lot on nuances or sophistication.
Matt LaFleur has repeatedly indicated that he wants a strong run game to be the foundation of his offense. The selection of A.J. Dillon is strong evidence that the Packers’ offense is transitioning from a pass-heavy to a run-oriented attack.
Just think of the play-action possibilities: is it a handoff to Dillon going up the middle, a lateral to Jones on the sweep, or has Rodgers kept the ball and is drifting back to pass?
We got him, so let’s use him. I say start him, right away, alongside Aaron Jones in a two-back set, and let thunder and lightning rain down on the opposition.