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Packers Should Make Room in the Backfield for A.J. Dillon

Post-Draft, Looking on the Bright Side – Part 6

Zach Kruse of Packers Wire wrote on May 5 that he doesn’t expect much impact from the Packers’ rookie draft class this season. Specifically regarding A.J. Dillon, he thinks he’ll be the third-string “rotational” RB behind Aaron Jones and Jaamal Williams. I hope he’s wrong, but it all depends on Coach Matt LaFleur.

Rookie Running Backs

There’s a widespread misconception around the NFL that rookies seldom contribute much to their teams in their rookie seasons. That might have some general validity, but it doesn’t apply to exceptional running backs. Several RBs in recent years have proven to be the exception to the general rule.

In the 2016 draft, Ezekiel Elliott, the Big Ten’s MVP out of Ohio State, was the fourth overall draft pick. As a rookie, he rushed 322 times for 1,631 yards (5.1 Ave.) and 15 TDs, and also caught 32 balls for 363 more yards. That’s six yard short of 2,000 yards of total offense. Zeke led the league in rushing by over 300 yards – that’s some rookie.

In 2017, Leonard Fournette, a consensus All-American out of LSU, was the fourth overall draft pick. Due to an ankle injury and violating team rules, Fournette played in only 13 games as a rookie. Still, he got 268 carries for 1,040 yards (3.9 ave.) and 9 TD’s, as well as 36 catches for another 302 yards.

Christian McCaffrey was the eighth overall pick in 2017. As a rookie, he made his mark as a receiver, catching 88 passes for 651 yards and 5 TDs. As a runner, he got 117 carries for 435 yards (3.8 ave.) and 3 TDs. Though he only started in ten games, his total offensive contribution was 1,086 yards and 7 Tds. The more work he gets. the better he plays. His monster year last season featured total offensive output of 2,392 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Alvin Kamara proved in 2017 that one doesn’t have to be a first round draft pick to excel as a rookie. Kamara, out of Tennessee, was an early Round 3 pick, 67th overall – slightly lower than A.J. Dillon. Like McCaffrey, as a rookie Alvin did most of his damage as a receiver: 81 catches for 826 yards and 5 TDs. As a runner he had 120 carries for 728, for a fine 6.1 average. His total offensive production was 1,556 yards and 13 TDs. Kamara was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Dillon’s Potential

I’ve been harshly skeptical of GM Brian Gutekunst’s 2020 draft decisions. But since the GM chose A.J. Dillon with the 62nd overall pick, there’s a way for the club to answer all the critics: start Dillon in Game 1 and let him show us what he’s got. If Dillon is given the chance, and turns in a rookie season like the above four phenoms, I’ll be the first to sing his praises.

It’s a highly plausible scenario. As TP has earlier detailed (here, here, and here), Dillon is a huge and powerful man with a sculpted body, but he’s also possesses good speed and agility. He had a great college career playing for Boston College in the AAC.

Of course I’ve got to consider his athleticism? There’s a product out there labeled SPARQ Ratings – it’s an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness. It’s designed to measure sport-specific (not just the NFL) and position-specific athleticism.

Guess what? A.J. Dillon Dillon had the highest-rated Adjusted SPARQ Percentile of all 2020 RB draftees (.97). Jonathan Taylor was second (.96), Cam Akers was fifth (.71), D’Andre Swift was eighth (.63), and Clyde Edwards-Helaire was tenth (.60). Dillon and Taylor were well ahead of the rest of the group.

Dillon is not just a very good athlete. Last year Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf was the consensus “freakish athlete” of his college class. I’d say that this year that title goes to A.J. Dillon!

Athleticism pretty much defines a star running back’s potential. Dillon is right up there with Elliott, McCaffrey, Fournette and other highly successful NFL running backs. It’s not far-fetched to envision him having a similar pro career to these guys. Oh, by the way, Dillon was only 21 years and 11 months old when drafted – he’s still maturing and developing.

Todd Gurley Comparison

Todd Gurley (6’1″, 224#) was the tenth draft pick in 2015. Befitting his ability, as a rookie he had 229 carries in 13 games, rushed for 1,106 yards (4.8 ave.), and scored 10 TDs. He was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and in 2017 he upped that to Offensive Player of the Year.

In just his fifth year, however, Gurley’s rushing production fell to 857 yards in 223 carries (3.8 ave.) – and the Rams released him. In April, Gurley signed on with the Falcons, but for only one year and only for $5.5 million.

Gurley has averaged over 250 carries per year in the pros, and his body has not held up well. In particular, following the Super Bowl loss to the Pats in 2018 – in which Todd had but 10 carries for 35 yards – it was disclosed that he has arthritis in his left knee. That condition likely spelled defeat for the Rams in the big game two years ago.

Gurley can be cited as a cautionary tale about overuse of a running back. As I recall, however, Gurley’s primary mistake was continuing to play on a bad leg instead of resting and healing. Others would argue that having a seriously arthritic knee at age 23 is freakishly rare.

Aaron Jones Comparison

At least the Rams got great benefit out of Gurley while they had him – and while he was still under the contract he signed as a rookie.

The Packers, meanwhile, have handed the ball to Aaron Jones exactly 150 times per season in his first three years; in his initial two years (mostly under McCarthy) he averaged only 107 carries, a statistic only partially explainable by injuries. And yet we know Aaron was ready from the start, as he had two games of 125 or more rushing yards in the first four games he played in as a pro.

Coach Matt LaFleur is said to be closely modeling the Packers after the 49ers. In 2019, the Niners ran the ball 498 times, or just over 31 times per game. That’s enough run plays for Jones and Dillon to each average over 15 carries per game – keeping them both fresh for the whole season – playoffs included. I would prefer that they both line up in the same backfield on most plays, but they could also platoon.

It seems that professional success of star collegiate running backs is one of the easier calls to make at draft time. Since 2014, the only first round RB picks other than Elliott, Fournette, McCaffrey and Gurley were: Josh Jacobs (#24 in 2019), Saquon Barkley (#2 in 2018); Rashard Penny (#27 in 2018); Sony Michel (#31 in 2018); and Melvin Gordon (#15 in 2015).

Jacobs, despite fracturing his shoulder in Week 7, played in 13 games last season for the Raiders. He had 242 carries for 1,150 yards (4.7 ave.) and 7 TDs. He was named to the PFWA All-Rookie team.

Barkley, with an awesome total yardage of 2,028, was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018.

Rashaad Penny, a consensus All-American in college in 2018, has been limited to 150 carries in his first two years with the Seahawks, though he has averaged 5.3 yards per carry while doing so.

Sony MIchel, though he started only eight games as a rookie, still managed to get 209 carries for 931 yards (4.5 ave.) and 6 TDs.

Heisman trophy runner-up Gordon just re-signed with the Chargers for two years for $16 million. In his rookie year in 2015, he ran 182 times for 641 yards (3.5 ave.). From 2016 through 2018, his total yardage varied from 1,375 to 1,581 yards.

Conclusions

The evidence is in: most highly-drafted NFL running backs prove themselves to be competitive and successful almost immediately. This is especially so for large and well-built RBs, and doubly so for highly-athletic ones.

The college ranks sent a handful of superlative RBs to the pro draft in April. I view A.J. Dillon as a first-roud draft choice in almost any other year.

If Matt LaFleur gives Dillon the carries I feel he merits, I believe the Packers will have two 1,000 yard rushers this season. I’ll be watching you, coach.

Though Dillon was chosen late in the second round, he’s one of the biggest RBs to enter the pro ranks. . .in league history! He’s 7 pounds heavier than Fournette, 14 more than Barkley, 16 more than Eddie Lacy, 22 more than Elliott, 25 more than Gurley, 27 more than Jacobs and Penny, 32 more than Gordon and Marshawn Lynch, 33 more than Kamara and Michel, and 45 more than McCaffrey. Amazingly, he’s is almost devoid of body fat, which was measured at 5 percent.

Other than for a handful of behemoths who had little success in, or pre-dated, the NFL (Craig Heyward, 280; LaRon McClain, 260; AFL/CFL player Cookie Gilchrist, 251), I can come up with only two larger RBs.

Leon Hart, 6’5″ and 257 pounds, was the Heisman Trophy winner in 1949, and the top draft pick in 1950. He had a fine career with the Lions from 1950 through 1957, but mostly as a receiver, not a running back.

More recently, Jerome Bettis, 5’11” and 255 pounds, the tenth overall pick in 1993, was a six-time Pro Bowler, mostly with the Steelers. Whereas the Bus was flabby, Dillon has a washboard belly.

Dillon is huge, strong as a bear, ultra-athletic, faster than average, rugged, smart, humble, and young – and he had three great years at Boston College. What’s not to like? I’m praying to see him lining up next to Aaron Jones at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 13. This is my bright-side formula for vanquishing the Vikings.

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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24 Comments

  1. Steve May 28, 2020

    That’s a great read ! I wish a few of these people that claim the Packers draft was a waste of Rodger’s career get an education.
    The same holds true for Rodgers. Drafting a quarterback that wants to play in Matt LaFleur’s system, is a great thing. We let Mike McCarthy go, either because of a stale offense, or a stale quarterback. So if Aaron doesn’t fit the system, or want to play in it, he can find the road. It’s time that the Head Coach and General Manager run the team, not the highest paid players. If the HC of the team, and Mike Pettine can have their 2nd season together before the fans and media criticise them, and their choice of players in the draft, maybe some of these fools will see, that Mike McCarthy isn’t here anymore. We went from 7-9 to 13-3 plus the playoffs last year. Don’t tell me that these people aren’t building a football team. We have to play under the salary cap, and manage our money also.
    This team will only get better. If Rodgers don’t fit, he can walk. The money saved will go a long ways, toward once again making The Packers, World Champions. We didn’t draft, what we didn’t need to do this. Our receivers will be more than adequate, they have just been freshly trained, so why the worry about drafting more rookies in the first place. Sure, we had to patch a few holes, and let a few players go, but we are under the cap, and have or will get the players we need to get the job done. Our GM has a bit of money to play with yet, and there’s great trade possibilities coming. I haven’t seen this team in much greater shape for many years. So what’s all of the bitching and complaining for ? Rodgers has a year in this new system, and if he buys in, he can easily get some rings, before he exits the door. And the Packers will still be strong as ever. These people have a plan, so R E L A X as Rodgers would say …

    1. PF4L May 28, 2020

      So what are we talking here….if “this team can only get better”, what are we talking here…14-2? Maybe 15-1?

      Ok…Rodgers can “easily” get some rings.

      “These people have a plan”

      I’m just happy we patched a few holes.

      Ain’t nobody gonna run on us now……

    2. Ferris May 28, 2020

      WE fans don’t get too excited having adequate receivers. You used WE and OUR 9 times in your post. If it’s OUR money somebody needs to ask me how to spend it, but nobody called to check what I thought. YOU say Rodgers can find the road and he can walk, then you say HE can easily get some rings. Don’t YOU mean WE can get some rings?
      Please stop writing this garbage, WE all want you to stop. And for the record YOUR team went from 6-9-1 to 13-3 playing one of the weakest schedules in football. Get ready for 8-8. If YOU are so confident head to Vegas, the casinos open June 5th. Take the over on Green Bay wins this season, odds makers have THEM at 9 wins. Post a pic of the betting slip.

      1. PF4L May 28, 2020

        Yea….i thought i knew what the word adequate meant. Or used in a sentence….Aaron Jones did an adequate job of being the #2 receiver.

  2. Tim May 28, 2020

    Mr. Born.
    If you view AJ Dillon as a 1st round value, then it is obvious why you are a blogger and not involved professionally in the NFL. Dillon’s single most outstanding characteristic is his complete lack of versatility. He is utterly one dimensional. At BC, he had 840 rushes and 21 receptions. NFL defenses will eat him up. That type of player simply doesn’t cut it in the big leagues. Why would you put him in the backfield with Jones on the season’s first snap? He’s never thrown a lead block in his life. People who make a living in the NFL rated Dillon no higher than a third rounder. Many had him as a day three pick.

    And BTW, if LaFleur is actually bent on imitating Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, the Packers are doomed. The 49ers run the ball because they spend all their money and draft choices on the D line. If you emphasize the run, you must have a great defense, (Or if you emphasize defense, you can’t afford a good QB and must run the ball.). Or you will make a habit of drafting in the top ten each year. Not to mention the fact that LaFleur really doesn’t understand the Shanahan system. The student is not equal to his master. There’s a good reason the Packers had their asses handed to them twice by SF in 2019. LaFleur got outcoached.

    Your formula for winning is a great way to win Super Bowl V. Unfortunately, the Colts already won that one, and this season the goal is to win Super Bowl LV. They won’t. Gute guaranteed that. The real question is how many years of mediocrity will Packers fans have to endure before the next real chance at a championship.

    1. PF4L May 28, 2020

      I was reading the article, about starting Dillon, how he matches up favorably athletically with other very good players (where have we heard that before). That reminds me, i have to take my next door neighbor in for tires tomorrow.
      .
      In reference to what Tim said about starting Dillon week one. I’ve been a football fan for a lot of years, more than i want to admit. You just don’t walk in and start (sometimes even if your a 12th pick). You have to earn it, you sure aren’t going to displace Jones, nor is it a given you get many of his carries. Williams is not great at any one thing, but he’s pretty good at everything.
      Tim is correct, you need to learn and “know” the offense, you need to be able to block at this level. , You need to earn a starting spot in the NFL, that’s how it’s always been. Can someone do that in pre-season (besides Hundley) sure i guess so. Is it likely…hardly. Utah State Div. I is a far cry to Green Bay and the NFL. Let’s see what happens.
      .
      Stay thirsty my friends.

      Btw…there is a good article about LeFleur defending the Love pick, let me find it for ya’ll.
      https://sports.yahoo.com/matt-lafleur-other-players-targeted-221910323.html

      Spoiler: Micheal David Smith of PFT wasn’t buying it either.

    2. Robster May 29, 2020

      Here’s what Mike Tanner, of bleacherreport.com, has to say:
      But after a 4.53-second sprint and some dazzling workout results at 247 pounds, NFL teams are going to see Dillon as much more than just another pile driver between the tackles. . .
      We’re here to tell you about AJ Dillon, a running back who could be a better version of Derrick Henry. You remember Henry, right? The Titans battering ram who nearly splintered the doors to the Super Bowl with one of the best postseason performances in history, right?. . .I’ll admit that when I started watching Dillon, I expected to see another Andre Williams: a slow-footed bruiser who pounded out a few yards at a time in Boston College’s lost-in-the-’70s offense. But Dillion is shockingly quick, with excellent vision and cutback ability. . .
      And if you don’t like the Henry comparison, Dillon offered a few others when he spoke to the media Wednesday: “I like to take bits and pieces from people’s games,” he said. “I look at Le’Veon Bell’s patience, Leonard Fournette, the way he runs a ball with speed…the way he runs, it’s an aggressive running style, Saquon’s explosiveness, Steven Jackson back in the day with the Rams, that’s how he ran to not really be denied yards.” Jackson and Fournette, it should be noted, also put up combine results similar to Dillon’s.
      It sounds to me (Robster) like Dillon is a real student of his profession. As to his type of player not cutting it in the big leagues, I’d say he’s as versatile, athletic, and shifty as the likes of Zeke Elliott, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, and Jerome Bettis – and they’ve all done okay in the NFL.

      1. PF4L May 29, 2020

        That’s fine….but lets cool our jets a bit with the he could be better than him, or he could be just as good as that guy, or his combine metrics compare to……….been there done that.
        .
        It won’t be that long, we don’t have to speculate, After pre-season we may get to see him in actual games on a NFL field. Lets let his performance speak for itself before we start calling him the next Zeke, Lynch, Bell, or Bettis.
        .
        If we keep crowning players before they get on a NFL field, we very well could run out of crowns. Then it’s just pure chaos and pandemonium.
        .
        Nobody wants that.

  3. MJ May 29, 2020

    Well, for RBs the physical gifts transfer better into the NFL than for WRs (yes… some people here are buying tires as if their car had 16 axles). More so if the RB does not need to learn many routes, and is seldomly used as a receiving option.
    =-=-=-=
    It is not a coincidence that the lowest wonderlic scores belong to RBs. Therefore, the skepticism is warranted if we were talking about any other position, but for a RB? Nah, let me enjoy the Kool Aid til the preseason begins. They are the ones that rely on their measurables the most.

    1. PF4L May 29, 2020

      Drink in moderation…..
      The last thing we need is people getting goofy on a sugar high. Nobody wants that.. the next thing you know your hallucinating about cars with 16 axles and it’s choas in here. I saw where someone helped a neighbor buy tires. lets not get it twisted, sometimes it’s better to…..
      .
      Just Say No.

  4. NobodysBurfect May 29, 2020

    Have we resigned Veldheer? Or are these guys running behind Rick Wagner and Billy Turner this year? Because oof. Anyone else getting a shitty premonition that we’re going to trade Linsley? I realize you can’t keep them all but damn, Rodgers can’t run for his life as fast as he used to be able to.

    Hey how’s everyone holding up? Shout out to the TP Packers commentariot – nice to be able to chat about the team during the offseason, especially with the goddamn pandemic (we’re not open for business in my state yet). Stay healthy everyone.

    1. PF4L May 29, 2020

      Hot damn!!!…..it doesn’t look like it but.that’s a damn good question, i’ve thought the same a few times. I’m waiting to see how this turns itself out, The other one is T Willy, Haven’t heard about him either. If they signed those two to realistic contracts, that eats about half of the salary cap they have left.
      .
      Thank you Burfect….Hope you and yours are holding up well also. Protesters are gathering in Milwaukee right now trying to shut down highways.

  5. PF4L May 29, 2020

    In other News: Protesters (criminals) wreaking destructive havoc in Minneapolis. This is how things get done folks. This is how positive change happens. This is how intelligent people get things done, while the Minn. Police take a few days off.
    .
    Political leaders in Minn. issued an 8 PM curfew. That is going well. Some political leaders might want to consider rebuking the criminal behavior of some in the next week or two. even if it means losing a few votes.
    .
    The 3rd Precinct Police building in Minn. was torched. The Police Chief there had the good sense of not protecting the rear of the building where the protesters (criminals) entered. In all fairness, maybe it was his first day on the job. He also displayed the bravery of running away from the building instead of dealing with the threat.

    We have now witnessed how people with the mentality of a pineapple act. 10% of the people, giving a huge black eye to the 90% of righteous protesters.

    How to fix this……..
    I’m guessing one political party will ask for more funding under a new Cares Act to distribute funds to the City’s under siege from the hands of these criminals to repair their infrastructure……….Translation—– The taxpayers need to fix the damage of these criminals.
    But….lets not forget to send them another batch of $1,200.00 stimulus checks funded by the same tax payers.
    .
    As i write this….the good folks at Chicago Lakes Liquor generously opened their doors providing free liquid refreshments to all who want to enter and take what they want. Plus the stores safe. Good people, misunderstood.

    .

    1. Jason Parker May 30, 2020

  6. ed May 30, 2020

    Enough of your political bullshit.
    Stick to football so you don’t sound like an idiot.

    1. PF4L May 30, 2020

      My 2nd cousin’s neighbors best friend is named Ed.
      .
      Welcome.

  7. GBPKRZ May 30, 2020

    I was pretty certain PF4L was an idiot before based on his posts but he has certainly confirmed it now. That is not the only thing he has confirmed. This last post revealed who he is or perhaps I should say “what” he is.

    1. PF4L May 30, 2020

      My apologies for interrupting the active going on’s in the NFL.
      .
      Lets all concentrate on what is going on with our Green Bay Packers, it’s hard to keep up.
      .
      Again…so, so, sorry

    2. PF4L May 30, 2020

      In football news……
      .
      Lane Taylor took a cut in pay. But i’m sure some of you already knew that, right?

  8. GBPKRZ May 30, 2020

    Agree wholeheartedly with Rob’s opinion on this! No, we shouldn’t anoint anyone a savior in the preseason, HOWEVER, we shouldn’t declare them busts either! They are equal mistakes. Still, I prefer to be an optimist over a pessimist. It just makes the day brighter.

    1. PF4L May 31, 2020

      I don’t recall anyone declaring anyone a bust, but hey, if you say so.

  9. PF4L June 2, 2020

    This is football related, so grab a tissue and stfu.
    .
    I can see it already…..Colin Kaepernick…TAKE 2. I can see NFL players kneeling some more now and that gets all the attention and all the headlines and were mired in all that shit all over again.
    The NFL should get strong and nip this in the bud and declare it against NFL rules like the NBA and MLB. They can take a knee, protest, march, , burn buildings, loot….set cop cars on fire, break out thousands of windows,,on their own time….not at work.

    1. Adam June 2, 2020

      Fuck. All. The. Way. Off.

      You don’t get to decide when and how it’s convenient to you for people to protest. Athletes use their platform to generate awareness and make political statements, you say ‘stick to sports’. Actors and actresses use their award ceremony speeches as a platform to voice their opinions about injustice, you say ‘you’re just an overpaid actor, what do you know’.

      People like you that continually dismissed their peaceful front-and-center peaceful protests as unnecessary and disgraceful, or spewed bullshit about the right time and place to exercise that right, are the reason society has boiled over in anger in frustration today. You don’t like it, tough shit. Get used to it because it’s not going anywhere.

      1. PF4L June 3, 2020

        A business owner dictates what their employee’s can or can’t do on Company time. I didn’t say i should decide. I said the NFL should……”. I voiced my opinion, not my mandate. I assumed you were smart enough to know the difference.

        Thanks for understanding.