Packers: Nobody is mocking the AJ Dillon selection anymore

Green Bay Packers, AJ Dillon - Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers, AJ Dillon - Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

When Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst selected running back AJ Dillon in the second round of the 2020 draft, the decision was met with criticism from the fan base and talking heads alike. Which to some degree I could understand, considering the Packers already had Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams under contract.

However, one has to understand that good teams don’t make selections to plug immediate needs. The selections are made based on who they believe to be the most talented player, with the best chance to be a difference maker at their respective position. If they end up contributing right away, that’s just an added bonus.

These selections are also made with one eye looking to the future in terms of player contracts. The franchise puts in the work to develop these young players in hopes they can step into more prominent roles when bigger names have contracts set to expire. This is the most cost effective way to operate when paying your stars top dollar like the Packers do, because you can’t pay everyone.

So, it didn’t matter that the Packers had two capable backs in front of AJ Dillon to begin his career, because the 250-pound running back was viewed as a player who could add a new dynamic to a team shifting their entire offensive philosophy under head coach Matt LaFleur.

AJ Dillon’s rookie season

As a rookie, Dillon was listed third on the depth chart behind two accomplished running backs, and very little opportunity available. Thus, he was regulated to just 63 snaps as a rookie – running the ball 46 times for 242 yards (5.3 YPC) and two touchdowns.

Of those 242 yards, 189 yards came after contact, giving Packers fans a glimpse of the wrecking ball of a tailback he could become with more carries.

Dillon’s breakout performance came against the Tennessee Titans, where he became a focal point of the team’s game-plan due to Jamaal Williams’ absence. Dillon ended up carrying the ball 21 times for 124 yards (5.9 YPC) and two touchdowns.

While it was likely the team’s plan to have Dillon as their RB2 in his second season anyway, Dillon’s breakout in the Tennessee game certainly did nothing to dissuade the Packers’ front office from doing so.

Heading into the off-season, the Packers faced a lot of uncertainty at the position with two impending free agents (Jones/Williams), and very little cap space available. Thankfully, no matter the outcome, the Packers had a contingency plan in place with the Boston College product.

The Packers would end up signing Jones to a four-year, $48 million extension, and letting fan-favorite Williams walk in free agency to the Detroit Lions, thus opening up significant opportunity for Dillon to receive significant carries in his sophomore season.

On paper, it was easy to see how Jones and Dillon would be able to complement each other on the field. This tandem had a chance of taking an already good running game in 2020 and potentially taking it to another level as a smash/dash 1-2 punch in the Packers’ backfield.

Now, the two backs have formed a backfield committee where the lead-back duties are often split depending on game script. They’re both versatile weapons that need to be utilized, and have helped form this team’s offensive identity.

Aaron Jones/AJ Dillon offensive production

  • Aaron Jones: 133 carries, 564 yards, 4.2 YPC – 37 receptions, 298 yards. 7 total TDs
  • AJ Dillon: 128 carries, 543 yards, 4.2 YPC – 27 receptions, 261 yards. 4 total TDs

There are few teams that value and utilize running backs the way the Packers choose to deploy theirs. On top of their productivity on the ground, the tandem also ranks second (Jones) and fourth (Dillon) in receptions, respectively.

Dillon has simply forced his way onto the field this season due to his hard-nosed, won’t-quit running style. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the work Dillon put in behind the scenes to become a key member of the Packers’ passing attack (catching 27 of 29 targets on the season).

On the ground, Dillon’s violent running style has seen him accumulate 410 of his 543 yards rushing AFTER contact. That’s roughly 75% of his rushing total coming on the ground (3.2 YPC after contact). He’s essentially been his own lead blocker when he’s had to, and become a true short-yardage weapon for the Packers.

Dillon’s mere presence on the field has garnered added attention in the box, allowing the passing attack to open things up. Dillon has become a player teams have to game-plan for and has seen his role increase with every passing week.

In year two, it’s becoming clear that the Dillon selection in round two was the right decision for the franchise. The team eased him into the role he’s in today, and it’s not hard to imagine him in a Derrick Henry-like bell-cow role down the road. People often get too caught up in the present to see the bigger picture, and this has been yet another indication that the Packers’ front office knows what they’re doing.

Dillon was a selection made with an eye on the future, and the team is reaping the benefits on the field in year two. I’d love to see anyone who mocked this selection try to defend their take now, because AJ Dillon is breaking out in his sophomore campaign and isn’t looking back.

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