With the long-awaited word of Aaron Rodgers‘ return and the Green Bay Packers officially placing the franchise tag on Davante Adams, the Green Bay Packers have put to rest all that talk of rebuilding in 2022. But there’s another under-the-radar asset that will be invaluable to their pursuit of a Lombardi Trophy. Next season, the Packers will have the best and most effective running game in the NFC North.
That may sound like a foolish statement. Minnesota Vikings superstar Dalvin Cook is one of the most talented running backs in the entire league, and the Detroit Lions’ D’Andre Swift has emerged as one of the NFL’s premier young talents. To top it off, the Chicago Bears’ David Montgomery has a high enough ceiling to duke it out with the best of ’em.
Yet one talented running back cannot guarantee a team victories. If that were the case, the Vikings would have won multiple Super Bowls in Adrian Peterson‘s prime, and the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans would each have rings from the one-hit-wonder days of Peyton Hillis and Arian Foster.
Picture a successful running back corps as a glass of water (or any other beverage of your choosing). Having an elite back like Cook or Aaron Jones fills half of the glass. An above-average complementary running back fills it a quarter. An offense that plays to the strengths of the running backs fills the glass up.
Both Green Bay and Minnesota have elite backs who fill half the glass. Detroit is 40% there. Yet only one team has the final two quarters of the glass filled thanks to a questionable draft pick and the extension of two marquee players who few thought would stay.
Thank you, Brian Gutekunst.
The latter statement was the hottest of takes for Packers fans for a significant period. Many fans thought Gutekunst’s 2020 draft would be the demise of his front-office career. After selecting QB Jordan Love in the first round, the Packers took a running back from, um, Boston College in the second round.
Who the hell was A.J. Dillon?
Packers fans were still bitter about Gutekunsts’ decision to let wrecking-ball Jamaal Williams go and were frustrated with his extension of then-shaky Aaron Jones. Therefore, they were infuriated with the front office’s selection of a low-profile RB in a high round that could have gone towards a lineman, safety, or corner.
Trust the process may seem cliché, but Gutekunst truly turned water to wine with the pick.
Dillon has been the greatest blessing for the Packers over the past two seasons. A third-down bulldozer, the Quadfather has served as the perfect ying to Aaron Jones’ yang. It’s unlikely that Jones’ incredible 2021 season would have come to fruition if not for the beautiful contrast between his and Dillon’s running styles.
Success has become expected in Green Bay, but it seems like an eternity since the Packers have truly excelled in the rushing department. While the absence of that element in the 2010s allowed Aaron Rodgers and his mastery to shine, it didn’t help Green Bay’s efforts towards becoming a complete football team.
Times have changed. The Packers now have a running back corps strong enough to be a serious threat. It’s also important to remember how their masterful passing game helps open up space for the ground attack. Regardless of talent, a complete NFL offense is like a cordial ballroom dance: It takes two to tango, rushing and passing.
Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff offer enough talent to help shape a solid offense, but the supporting layers just aren’t there. Each team has quality wideouts, but the dealbreaker comes down to running back depth.
Dillon stacks up against Khalil Herbert (Bears), Alexander Mattison (Vikings), and Jamaal Williams (Lions) in terms of RB2. Mattison and Williams have already established solid NFL careers, but their numbers aren’t close to Dillon’s. He leads the group in total yards with 803 (Williams is next with 601), touchdowns with five (Williams and Mattison both had three), and yards per carry with 4.3.
Those stats are enough to prove that Dillon is a man amongst boys, yet the most telling stat comes in total rushing attempts. Dillon had 187 rushing attempts in 2021, more than his three counterparts and 16 more than Jones, Green Bay’s lead back. Jones missed multiple games due to injury, but the point is that the Packers are confident giving the rock to Dillon.
That confidence shows that the Packers have a complete offensive threat. With the band getting back together in 2022, there’s no telling what this group could do.