Sat, 31 Jul 2021

Competition for the third spot features three candidates Mike Spofford

As training camp approaches, packers.com is examining Green Bay's roster, position by position. The series continues with the running backs.

GREEN BAY - The Packers' 1-2 punch in the backfield will have a different No. 2 in 2021, and the battle for No. 3 will be one to watch in the preseason.

When General Manager Brian Gutekunst drafted AJ Dillon in the second round last year, he did so expecting to lose at least one of Green Bay's top two running backs to free agency after 2020.

That's exactly what happened, as the Packers re-signed Aaron Jones to a long-term deal but let Jamaal Williams depart to Detroit, setting the stage for Dillon to be the second half of the 2021 tandem.

Jones remains the top guy, coming off his second straight season with at least 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns. After finding the end zone 19 times in 2019 (16 rushing TDs, three receiving), Jones' TD total dropped to a more modest 11 last year (nine rushing, two receiving), but there was no shortage of dynamic playmaking as the former fifth-round draft pick earned an overdue Pro Bowl nod.

Jones posted two TD runs of 75-plus yards, added three other late-season runs of 45-plus that didn't reach the end zone (including a 60-yarder in the playoff win over the Rams), and caught at least one pass in every game he played.

He's compiled over 3,000 combined rushing and receiving yards over the last two seasons altogether, so his re-signing was a priority in free agency and the deal got done.

The way Head Coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett like to use multiple backs, though, Dillon won't be an afterthought in game plans. Far from it.

Williams posted at least 700 yards from scrimmage each of the last two years, and now Dillon will bring a similar power running style plus a couple dozen pounds, which reside mostly in his legs. The 6-foot, 247-pound "Quadzilla" got one chance as the team's feature back last year due to injuries, and he came through with 21 carries for 124 yards and two TDs, including a 30-yarder, in the NFC North-clinching win over Tennessee at Lambeau Field.

That game accounted for more than half of his rushing production on the season (46 carries, 242 yards) as Dillon missed a chunk of the year battling the coronavirus. He also caught only two passes out of the backfield last season, a facet of his game that wasn't utilized much at Boston College either, so his route-running and hands were both points of emphasis during spring workouts knowing his role was due to expand.

The only real unknown is who will step into Dillon's role from 2020 as the third option. Three candidates will vie for the job, which most likely will be decided in the preseason games when the hitting and tackling are live.

Two of the three, Patrick Taylor and Dexter Williams, have spent time previously in Green Bay.

Taylor came to the Packers a year ago as an undrafted rookie from Memphis, but his first year in the NFL was essentially a washout due to surgery a college foot injury required. The 6-2, 217-pound back had 536 carries for 2,884 yards (5.4 avg.) and 36 TDs in 45 games at Memphis and likely would have been drafted had it not been for his health.

Williams was a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame two years ago who has spent most of the 2019-20 seasons either as a game-day inactive or on the Packers' practice squad. At 5-11, 212, Williams had 257 carries for 1,636 yards (6.4 avg.) and 20 TDs in 38 games for the Fighting Irish.

The third competitor for the No. 3 spot is rookie seventh-round pick Kylin Hill, whom the Packers chose with their final 2021 draft choice out of Mississippi State. Hill had a huge season for the Bulldogs two years ago (242 carries, 1,350 yards, 10 TDs) before playing in just three games last year prior to opting out.

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