The Green Bay Packers have one of the top running back duos in the NFL heading into this season with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Both players are starting caliber backs who can gain 1,000 yards on the ground during a season.
Last season, Dillon gained 803 yards on 187 carries while Jones added 799 yards rushing on 171 runs. Jones started 15 games while Dillon started two. The duo has complimentary skill sets with Jones being more of a one-cut speedy runner who can get to the outside and break any run for a long gain while Dillon is a big, physical, between-the-tackles runner who is difficult to bring down one-on-one.
In the past, the duo wasn’t on the field at the same time very often. But that could change in 2022 if day one of mandatory OTAs are any indication.
Aaron Jones getting split around the formation quite a bit with AJ Dillon in the backfield. Would think you might see 33 and 28 on the field together quite a bit this season.
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) June 7, 2022
There are several reasons the Packers could use both Jones and Dillon on the field together more this season.
The most obvious is that having both of their top backs on the field together will keep defenses guessing a bit. If Matt LaFleur’s team uses only Dillon on the field, defenses will be looking for a power, inside run. If Jones is the only back in the formation, they will look for a cutback run or a run to the outside. But if both Dillon and Jones line up in the backfield, defenses can’t key on either player and they can’t key on either type of running play. Again, even a split second hesitation at the snap of the ball can make add another few yards to any given play. At the very least, it can give the offense another advantage.
At OTAs, the Packers had Dillon in the backfield frequently with Jones split around the formation. This could also help the team in the passing game.
Both Jones and Dillon are solid receivers out of the backfield. They both have good hands and can do more than just catch swing passes or outlet passes.
In 2021, Jones was second on the team with 52 catches on 65 targets for an impressive 80 percent catch percentage according to pro-football-reference.com. Meanwhile, Dillon caught 34 passes on just 37 targets for an outstanding 91.9 percent catch percentage.
The Packers will be playing 2022 without Davante Adams who has led the team in catches in each of the last five seasons and is considered one of the best receivers in the NFL today. Speedster Marquez Valdes-Scantling has also departed, leaving the Packers without two of their top three receivers from a year ago.
In the past, when Adams hasn’t been available, it’s been Jones who picked up the slack as a receiver and became one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets. Jones even had more than 100 yards receiving and two touchdown catches in 2019 in Kansas City when Adams was out of the lineup. He went over 100 yards receiving again in the Packers playoff game against the 49ers this past January.
Many scouts weren’t sure what kind of receiver Dillon would be. At Boston College, he wasn’t asked to catch many passes as part of the team’s offense although he was the team’s workhorse back when it came to carrying the football.
Dillon worked hard to show the Packers coaching staff he could catch passes and run patterns and it paid off last season. Dillon can run routes and be elusive in the open field after he catches the football.
If both backs are on the field, the Packers could line up one out wide like they did during day one of mandatory OTAs on Tuesday or they could line both Jones and Dillon in the backfield. That could also help create mismatches in coverage with linebackers trying to keep up with Jones or Dillon which will almost always give the Packers an edge.
Both Jones and Dillon are also good blockers when they line up in the backfield. Jones worked very hard at improving his pass protecting skills which were a major reason he didn’t get more playing time as a rookie. He is now good at picking up blitzes when he needs to and is reliable when protecting his quarterback.
Dillon also does a good job of picking up blitzing linebackers and safeties and protecting his quarterback. Because both backs can block and catch passes, again the Packers can keep defenses guessing at the snap of the ball.
It will be a challenge for the Green Bay offense to overcome the loss of Adams and it will take time for the team’s younger receivers to integrate themselves into the offense and gain the trust of Rodgers. But having both Jones and Dillon on the field at the same time is one way the team can create mismatches and confusion for opposing defense using the proven talent that is already on the roster. It can be used to improve both the running game and the passing game and is something we should see more of in 2022.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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