The Packers offense got a drastic makeover this offseason and may need to lean on their run game in 2023. Can their top two backs sustain the pressure?
The Green Bay Packers adore one Aaron — Aaron Jones. The No. 1 running back has played in at least 14 games a season for the last four years and has racked up multiple 1,000-plus yard campaigns.
The same cannot be said for AJ Dillon, Jones’ power back complement.
Four years younger than Jones, Dillon was selected by the Packers in the second round of the 2020 draft and has struggled to get a consistent foothold in Green Bay’s ground game.
In 2022, Dillon finished with 770 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, modest stats for a No. 2 back, yet he posted a career-low 4.1 yards per carry.
That might be fine with a veteran like Aaron Rodgers under center, but after the changing of the guard, Jordan Love might still need some traction from the training wheels that are his elite running backs.
Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans spoke about the Packers issuing a challenge to Dillon in Year 4:
“This wasn’t the type of year and expectations that, not only he had for himself but from what I had for him and what others in this building had for him.”
“I think that he’s the type of person, at least from what he’s shown me, that he’s going to respond to that challenge and come out and have a much more productive year. And you saw a lot of great things in spurts, but that was just the problem, it was just in spurts. It wasn’t consistent, and that’s what our goal is.”
Packers want AJ Dillon to focus on consistency in 2023
Sirmans mentions two things in his critique of Dillon: he believed the back wasn’t “aggressive” or consistent enough last season.
Serving as the backup running back can be a somewhat unstable position since players are often asked to step up in a moment’s notice. For Dillon, the Packers will be looking for him to step up at the start of 2023 and maintain a high level of production throughout the season — as is the expectation for any employable running back in the NFL.
Dillon’s Year 4 with the franchise may nonetheless draw more scrutiny as the franchise may give him and Jones a heftier workload in Rodgers’ absence. He only has one 100-yard rushing game in his career; the closest he got in 2022 was 93 yards in a Week 13 win over Rodgers’ favorite team, the Chicago Bears.
Jones’ motivational mentality and early-down efficiency will only get the Packers so far — with the luxury of rostering two cost-effective talented backs into the 2023 season, it’ll be the one-two punch of Jones and Dillon that gets the Packers’ engine started and keeps their season going.
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