Green Bay Packers

One Key Change Can Keep AJ Dillon On the 53-Man Roster

Photo Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Last year wasn’t great for A.J. Dillon.

The Green Bay Packers’ then-RB2 played 15 games in 2023 and started six. He recorded 613 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and 22 catches for 223 yards. Dillon received his worst PFF offensive and rushing grades since entering the league in 2020.

Despite playing in four more games than the injured Aaron Jones, Dillon had only half of Jones’ 10-plus-yard rushes and forced five fewer missed tackles. Dillon averaged 3.4 yards per attempt.

After the 2023 season, the Packers re-signed Dillon to a four-year player-qualifying contract. Dillon will make $1,292,500 in 2024, costing less than 1% of Green Bay’s cap space. That makes him an economical option, but it’s hardly a vote of confidence.

And the running back room has only gotten more crowded. The Packers also brought in Josh Jacobs and released Aaron Jones an hour later. Green Bay is paying Jacobs top-five running back money, making him their clear No. 1 running back. Additionally, the Packers selected Marshawn Lloyd with the 88th-overall pick in the 2024 draft. Lloyd ran a 4.46 at 220 lbs. and forced 47 missed tackles in 2023. He perfectly fits Matt LaFleur’s ideal profile for a No. 2 running back.

The 2024 season is the first time Dillon is genuinely in danger of not making the 53-man roster. To earn a spot on the team, he must demonstrate the explosiveness that was sorely lacking in the running back room when injuries sidelined Jones early and late last year. In 2023, Dillon managed only eight rushes for over 10 yards and had five games with zero broken tackles. But there is a way he can increase his chances of sticking around and remaining relevant, and it all hinges on a re-evaluation of his specific position.

Dillon holds an advantage over Jacobs and Lloyd, given his familiarity with Matt LaFleur’s playbook and system. That could potentially give him an edge in securing his place on the team. However, Dillon still might not remain as the full-time running back. Instead, he could carve out a niche as a hybrid fullback, a role previously filled by Josiah Deguara, who departed for the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.

Dillon has a proven ability to block in pass protection. Last season, he garnered seven pass-blocking grades above 77. While this is not an extensive sample size, it underscores Dillon’s capability to hold his ground against linebackers.

Dillon has proved himself to be at least an average contributor through the air. While he had five drops in 2022, he showed improvement last year, with only one drop on 27 targets. Additionally, he received the best receiving grade of his career.

With a career average run-blocking grade of 58.6, Dillon needs to enhance this aspect of his game if he shifts full-time to a hybrid position at fullback. However, it’s important to consider that run-blocking hasn’t been a primary focus of his assignments throughout his career. Given an entire offseason to potentially work on this skill, Dillon could develop into an average or slightly above-average run blocker.

Transitioning to fullback could also increase Dillon’s chances of being more involved in the offense. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if he earned the RB2 position during training camp. Lloyd is a rookie, and rookies often face challenges adjusting to the NFL. Furthermore, running back is the position with the fourth-highest injury rate in the National Football League over the last decade. It’s still possible that Dillon could find himself at the top of the running back depth chart if Jacobs or Lloyd suffer injuries.

Dillon will most likely make the final roster as a running back. However, his role could vary between the second or third option. Still, Green Bay can cut or trade Dillon, freeing up cap space for contract extensions with players like Jordan Love and Kenny Clark. Furthermore, Dillon is a serviceable running back, and the Packers could potentially involve him in a trade for a player from a position that Green Bay might find itself short of options in due to mid-season injuries.

Dillon will need to earn his roster spot through training camp and preseason. If he makes the final roster, he will provide veteran leadership. However, if the Packers find good opportunities in the trade market, they should not hesitate to capitalize on them.

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