Yes, there’s a gigantic elephant in the room as the Green Bay Packers approach the start of training camp next week, but there’s plenty to be excited about. With so much of the roster remaining the same, especially at the skill positions on offense, there’s one training camp battle between newcomers that should provide some excitement and help out whoever lines up under center in Week 1.
The Packers received rave reviews on the seventh-round selection of running back Kylin Hill out of Mississippi State, with many draft analysts noting the value that Green Bay got with the selection. He’s well built at 5’10”, 214 lbs. but might not necessarily be the home-run hitter that, say, Aaron Jones is at the RB1 position. What’s encouraging about his scouting report is that he’s not only got good hands to haul in screen passes but also shows a willingness and competitiveness within pass protection that he can be relied upon to help keep the pocket clean — all traits that become more important on third down.
After reading the glowing review of Patrick Taylor by former Packers beat writer Ty Dunne at his Go Long TD site, it’s tough not to be excited about the 23-year-old second-year back out of Memphis. Taylor had injury issues in college, which led him to sign with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent before he underwent foot surgery in March of 2020 that sidelined him for the entirety of his rookie year. If Taylor is healthy, he’s a bigger back who will provide a different look than Kylin Hill, at least. If he can continue the trajectory that some thought would lead him to be a second-round pick had he stayed healthy, the Packers could have a treasure trove of options at the running back position.
AJ Dillion was the Packers’ third-leading rusher last year, with 242 yards on 46 carries as he patiently waited for opportunities behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. When Dillon was thrust into a starting role, he posted 124 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns. That means that when you take out the game he started, the Packers’ third-leading rusher had a whopping 118 yards on 25 carries over the course of 10 games. Not exactly numbers that will blow you away.
If Green Bay can find a third (and possibly fourth?) option that can be a viable threat out of the backfield, it should be beneficial on many different levels. First, it will keep Jones and Dillion that much fresher and healthier, with that much more in the tank before a potential (hopefully long) playoff run.
Next, it provides a dynamic that the Packers didn’t have reliably in this past season. The idea of Tyler Ervin is enticing within the Packers’ offense, but he averaged little more than one touch a game, tallying 24 total touches on offense for a combined 151 yards. Rookie Amari Rodgers may fill that Tyler Ervin-type of role within the offense, but his specialties are more as a slot receiver and return man, leaving carries there for the taking. Having a consistent RB3 threat from someone looking to prove himself as a newbie in the league is something that the coaching staff should absolutely explore in Year 3 of the Matt LaFleur Era.
Additionally, it’s depth. Dillon was ready to step into the spotlight when his number was called late in the season, but who’s to say that, come Week 6, the Packers aren’t looking at a hamstring injury or some turf toe and are in desperate need of a back to step up. The preference is certainly that Jones and Dillon stay healthy, as they could certainly establish themselves as the best one-two running back combination in the league. But it’s great to have a potent RB3 ready to have his number called in any circumstance.
Finally, it’s something new. So much of the Packers’ offense is players that are back from last year. That’s not a bad thing — give me Davante Adams and Aaron Jones every day of the week — but that does mean that the tape and the tendencies are out there for this group of players within this offense. Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are tantalizing but still inconsistent, and the hope is certainly that Robert Tonyan can continue his ascendance into the upper echelon of tight ends in the NFL. However, there are plenty of great defensive coordinators around the league. If Green Bay does end up with someone, ahem, less experienced under center, the jobs of those defensive coaches become conceivably that much easier. Adding in this new wrinkle should help give the offense a jolt and, at the very least, provide a look that hasn’t been utilized much recently.