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This article is about a 10-minute read.
In a Backfield Breakdown, we will look at a team's running backs from all angles. Is there a bell-cow back on the roster? How about sleepers? What roles do we foresee from these backs?
Let's find out about Green Bay right now.
In 2019, Aaron Jones was a workhorse. He accumulated over 1500 total yards from scrimmage along with 49 catches and 16 touchdowns. That production was good enough for him to finish as RB2 in PPR scoring and as RB3 in non-PPR. Usually, when such a prolific back remains with the same team, you can pretty much project similar statistics in the next season. Many in the fantasy community are doing that. But some aren't.
That's because the Packers selected rookie A.J. Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Dillon, in three years at Boston College, gained 4382 yards and 38 touchdowns on 845 carries.
And we can't forget about Jamaal Williams, who had 695 yards and 6 scores on 146 touches.
Does Jones hold off the rookie all season? Is Dillon a definite handcuff target after drafting Jones? Does Williams' role change at all? Is there room for another back like Dexter Williams or Tyler Ervin to carve out a role?
How does this backfield shake out in 2020?
I'm mystified by the lack of respect Aaron Jones is getting. As noted above, usually, fantasy enthusiasts assume Year N+1 closely resembles Year N, but not in this case. And that's a head-scratcher because AJ Dillon isn't being drafted like he's a threat to steal the job. Everyone in the Packers backfield is discounted right now, which makes it a fantastic target. We know Jones' upside because we saw it last year. He can be one of the two or three best players as the position. Even if you assume touchdown regression, it's hard to see why he's being drafted in the second round behind players who have neither done what he did last year nor have the stability from 2019 to 2020 in terms of supporting cast.
I'm a huge Dillon fan and he's among my favorite RB2s based on his ADP. I have no doubt he, too, could be an every-week fantasy starter if Jones gets hurt. That assumes Jamaal Williams isn't a threat for touches, and I don't think he is with Dillon in house. The pandemic probably gives Williams a stay of execution, but he'll be the RB3 by mid-October at the latest.
I actually agree with Jason but came to a different conclusion. With Aaron Jones, you should either love him and draft him accordingly or bypass him. There should be no middle ground. Aaron Jones finished 2019 as the third-ranked running back yet no one seems in any hurry to draft him anywhere near that slot in 2020. Why? Highly productive running backs in the NFL should be valuable to a franchise. Well, the Packers seem to be running to avoid paying him franchise back money and drafted A.J. Dillon in the second round. My estimation is that the Packers will use Dillon once he is ready to see if he can take the load for 2021 onwards. Jones does have the opportunity to take the job early, keep it and smash his ADP. Maybe he even forces the Packers to enter serious long term talks. Drafting a quarterback in round one and running back in round two were curious choices for Green Bay given how successful those two positions were in 2019. Dillon is the more likely of the two to see significant action this year.
Apart from Dillon, the 2019 season from Jones screams fluke. 19 touchdowns are not going to happen again and Aaron Rodgers will get his share of touchdowns inside the five again. It is possible to see a three-headed monster with Jamaal Williams entering the fray as well. That said Jones was the key to Green Bays' successful season and he will still have his moments. This will be a case of almost everyone being wrong or almost everyone being right regarding Jones, but regardless of who or how the rushing attempts are split, it will be a productive unit.
Green Bay added A.J. Dillon in the draft, and the Packers do not give out second contracts to running backs (the last two were James Starks and Eddie Lacy four years ago). Jones may be a great talent, but if Dillon shows that he can replace Jones as the lead back next season, the Packers are likely to let Jones walk and take a comp pick for 2022.
Jones had four different injuries in 2018 and 2019 that added up to eight missed games those two seasons. I expect the Packers to use Jones as much as they can, but the Packers tend to use at least two tailbacks a game, so I expect Dillon to be worked in and utilized more as the season wears on, which can keep Jones fresh (and hopefully healthy) this year and also determine if Dillon is the future. Those lost snaps for Jones is a strong reason to be a bit cautious in selecting him based solely on 2019 numbers.
If I am drafting any back from the Packers this year, it is Dillon as an RB3 or RB4 on my team with the belief that he sees more of the workload in the second half of the season for Green Bay.
I'm excited about the power and drive that A.J. Dillon brings to the league. He is a monster on the field at 6'0 and 247 pounds. He's not far off from Derrick Henry, and I've seen Dillon make Henry-like moves. The concern for those who want an immediate return on Dillon for redraft leagues is the level of involvement he'll have in 2020. He may get some stray goal-line touchdowns because Green Bay will want to capitalize on his size and power, but is he ready for full-time duty? Not with Aaron Jones still in the mix. In order for Dillon to become a weekly start, Jones will need to be out of the picture and we can't count on that. So, having said that, Jones still has value but Dillon will probably decrease his ceiling. There is also the presence of Jamaal Williams whom we can't ignore. Williams is a weapon as a rusher and receiver and won't be invisible in the Packers offense. He has eight career rushing touchdowns and seven career receiving touchdowns.
This is Aaron Jones' job to begin the year. This pretty much ends the confidence I have in the distribution of touches in the Packers' backfield. Does that last a month? Half of the season? All year? Jones is not a prototypically-sized back and had a massive 2019 season. He is an outlier from the Day 3 running back ranks historically. Not being a big-picture believer in Jones, plus the regression-worthy touchdowns produced last year, it is easy for me to gravitate other directions when Jamaal Williams is a solid NFL back and the team shows us their cards by drafting A.J. Dillon in Round 2. Dillon is the closest thing to Derrick Henry in my running back model since the Alabama back entered the NFL. The Packers eschewed passing game weapons in the NFL Draft for Dillon and Josiah Deguara as run-game elements on Day 2. They are telling us their plan. It may be Jones as the clear 1A for the opening weeks. It may be Jones for two months. However, Dillon becomes more of a threat the longer the season progresses. And any injury or fumble or poor play from Jones could be the leak in the dam enough for Dillon to surpass Jones, who I doubt is in Green Bay's post-2020 plans.
It sure does seem like Jones is available at a discount. He's unlikely to score 19 total touchdowns again, but it's not like mega-efficiency is anything new to him. He's made a consistent habit of adding value to his touches since entering the league in 2017.
It's hard to believe Matt LaFleur saw what Jones did last season and felt the need to spend a second-round pick on a running back, but here we are. Dillon, as the guys have pointed out is enormous, fast, strong, and clearly in the team's offensive plans.
As much as I want to be as incredulous at Jones' ADP as Jason, I've been passing on him in drafts. I expect Jones to continue being efficient with his touches and catch 50 passes, but it makes too much sense for LaFleur to call the 247-pound Dillon's number at the goal line. If Jones loses half his touchdowns, he'll be inconsistent from week to week as an early-round starter and end up closer to a 14-15 PPR point-per-game running back than the 20 point-per-game superstar he was last year.
I agree with the sentiment that Jones will start the year as the starter. I also agree with the idea that 19 touchdowns won't be replicated. With both points in mind, I'm still looking at drafting Jones as he slides into the mid to late-second in drafts.
Jones' role in the passing game can't be summarily dismissed. Both Jones and Williams carved out useful target shares (12% and 9%, respectively) and the Packers' lack of offseason moves at receiver suggest similar opportunities for both. Plus, Jones wound up second on the team in redzone targets with Williams close behind. Dillon's size lends itself to short-yardage situations, but, to me, those aren't situations we can predict nor count on from a weekly/redraft standpoint. Dillon is certainly a handcuff, but it's unclear as to him having much standalone value on a per-game basis.
We've seen Aaron Rodgers talk about "his guys" and those outside of that circle of trust have wilted on our rosters. Williams likely has the shortest leash leading to more work for Dillon, but I'll bet on Jones to make it through the season.
I like the way Phil put it - I want to be incredulous at Aaron Jones' ADP but I find myself more interested in other players whenever he's being suggested (correctly) by the Draft Dominator. I do think Jones will hold off the rookie this year, assuming health. Making that assumption, though, is one of those things that is impossible to predict, but important to not forget. For me, that's a part of why I'm shying away from him at his cost.
The touchdown regression angle is one thing that I think has been covered plenty, but there are a couple of other things I wanted to point out. Jones carried the ball the 13th most times inside the red zone last year but was absurdly efficient. On 33 attempts inside the 20-yard-line, he converted 14 into touchdowns! Nobody else came close to that incredible 42% conversion rate in the entire league.
Another thing that needs to be noted is Jones' receiving splits with Davante Adams on the field. As I pointed out in the spotlight on Jones, he topped 37 yards receiving in just 2 of 12 games where Adams played. He also caught more than two passes in only 3 of 12 games Adams was on the field.
The last issue I have with Jones is that besides the regression, there is now a legitimate goal-line threat on the roster. I've been listening to guys like Matt and Jeff talk about him and I am sold on A.J. Dillon's ability to make an impact for this team. Now, I don't think Dillon will necessarily step in and corral all the scoring chances, but if he's in consideration for even a portion of those chances it will hurt Jones. The worst-case scenario for Jones would be to see Dillon come in and blow up some stacked boxes for some goal-line conversions early in the season. This would largely torpedo Jones' chances at a fantasy finish that mirrors his draft cost.
Jamaal Williams has been a favorite of mine in recent years, but the bloom is off the rose. I think they like him in Green Bay for his grit and veteran presence, but I believe he is the one who takes the hit if they decide Dillon can do what they drafted him for. I am completely avoiding Williams for fantasy purposes as I think his role moves to purely pass blocking and some occasional receiving work if Dillon capitalizes on his opportunities. I'm also not predicting either of the backs at the back of the depth chart to earn any significant time.
In the end, I have been passing on Jones although I do believe in his talent. I simply don't like the red flags for his situation considering what pick I have to use to get him. Dillon is not a must-add for me in the handcuff department because there are four or five handcuffs I'd prefer before him. If Jones goes down I obviously want to have Dillon on my roster, but I don't see Dillon getting much stand-alone value until midway through the season, and even then I don't see it as enough to wait on him. Handcuffing makes sense, but as I said there are other handcuffs I want over Dillon because I don't think he takes over the lead job from Jones this year without an injury. Next year is a different question, but purely for redraft, I think Jones is the leader of a committee and he'll earn around 60-65% of the touches, with Williams commanding a good portion of the rest (~20%) early on, and that shifting to Dillon more as the year wears on. I'm essentially fading the entire backfield this season unless Jones falls into the third round, or Dillon falls to me as an end of roster RB5.