This was supposed to be a bounce back year for Green Bay Packers running back A.J. Dillon. The fourth-year man out of Boston College disappointed the coaching staff and himself with his play last year. Dillon entered the season determined to run harder and return to the form he showed in 2021. Unfortunately, his Week 1 performance left a lot to be desired. Dillon needs to overcome his slow start to the season to set up his next big contract.

A Disappointing 2022 Season for A.J. Dillon

Dillon struggled in 2022 after enjoying a strong 2021. Last year, Dillon himself admitted he was not pleased with his own performance. He said he was “playing tight” last year and was running too upright. During the offseason, he indicated he was looking forward to the new season.

“When it’s time to go play ball, I’m going to go out there and play free and have fun — how I used to back in college, high school. And how ever that happens — whether it’s 1,000 yards, 2,000 yards, 100 yards — so be it. I’m going to have fun and enjoy all the time I have here. And hopefully, we’re back here [Green Bay] next year.”

Dillon gained 770 yards as the team’s second running back behind Aaron Jones and scored seven touchdowns. Those are not bad numbers for an RB2, but his 4.1-yard average was the lowest of his NFL career. He also seemed to run with less intensity than he did the previous season.

Packers Coaches Frustrated with A.J. Dillon

Ben Sirmans, the Packers running back coach, explained the issues he had with Dillon’s performance last season. “There’s been games when he’s started off the season pretty strong, but there was a point, we talked about it, where it was last year, I thought he could’ve been playing at a more aggressive level. And then we talked about it, watched the tape, he saw what I was referring to and then he applied what we talked about to moving on. And understanding that, it’s got to be right from the start. Hey, we know the things that we like that you did last year and when you played this way you are very effective, but when you play this way, you weren’t. So, we need to start off this way. So, there will be more of an emphasis on how we need to start.”

Dillon himself acknowledged he could have played better. “It wasn’t a bad year or anything like that, but it wasn’t the year I was hoping for last year,” he said over the offseason. “So, obviously, there’s things I need to work on. But the biggest thing for me is just the mentality of, ‘I’m going to go out there and I’m going to play free.”

A.J. Dillon Struggles in the Packers Season Opener

The 2023 season didn’t get off to a great start for Dillon. Jones got off to a good start, but he also tweaked his hamstring in the third quarter. That left Dillon as the primary back. For the game, he carried the ball 13 times and gained just 19 yards. When you add the fact that his long gain was seven yards, that means he gained 12 yards total on his other 12 carries in the game. Three of his carries went for losses and one was for no game.

The Boston College alum also caught two passes for 17 yards. One of them was a screen pass that looked like it would turn into a big gain, but Dillon didn’t read his blocks well and the play gained only five yards.

Overall, Dillon just didn’t seem like a dynamic runner who is tough to bring down one-on-one. That was considered his strength in scouting reports and had been his bread and butter in college and earlier in his pro career.

The Need for Dillon to Bounce Back

Dillon is at a crossroads in his NFL career. He’s in the final year of his entry-level contract. At the end of this season, he will either re-sign with the Packers or be looking for a new team on the free agent market.

Teams throughout the NFL do not prioritize running backs in the current market. If Dillon has another disappointing season, it will cost him a lot of money when he goes to sign a new deal. The Packers are less likely to keep him if he doesn’t improve his play and other teams will make much lower offers and his chances of getting a large role on his new team will be reduced.

This is an important season for Dillon. He needs to play better than he did in Week 1 against Chicago both for the success of the Green Bay rushing attack and for his own future.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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