The Green Bay Packers have a talented group of running backs heading into the 2023 season. Yet despite looking set for now, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the running back position after the coming season concludes.
The team has two proven runners at the top of the depth chart and some players with potential competing for the third running back spot. With the inexperienced Jordan Love taking over for the now departed Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Matt LaFleur’s offense will likely rely on their running backs a lot more.
Here is a look at the running back situation for the Green Bay Packers as we get ready for mandatory minicamp:
Aaron Jones Is Back
The starter is veteran Aaron Jones. The UTEP alum is coming off a career-high 1,121 yards rushing and 59 catches for 395 more yards.
Jones is a quick, one-cut runner with the speed to turn the corner and break a long gain on any given play. He worked hard to become a reliable blocker and is considered a great teammate both on the field and in the locker room.
Jones is under contract beyond 2023 but he has a prohibitive cap hit of more than $17 million next season. He already agreed to take a pay cut to stay in Green Bay this season so it’s doubtful he’d do so again in 2024.
GM Brain Gutekunst will have a tough decision to make regarding Jones’ future this offseason. Jones is the most reliable and dangerous runner on the roster. He is presently third on the team’s all-time rushing list with 5,284 yards. Jones is also a weapon as a receiver but he will be 29 next offseason. The Packers may not be willing to spend $17 million to keep him for another year.
A Contract Year for A.J. Dillon
The primary change of pace back is A.J. Dillon. Dillon gained 770 yards last season and ran for seven touchdowns in 2022. The coaching staff feels he can be tougher to bring down and can take his game to a higher level.
Dillon compliments Jones well. He is a large, between-the-tackles runner who is difficult to bring down one-on-one. Dillon has very large quads for a running back and can even catch the ball out of the backfield.
The former Boston College star is in the final season of his rookie contract and will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Dillon should be motivated to have a big year in 2023 as he plays for a new contract either with the Packers or another team.
Losing both Jones and Dillon in the same offseason would be costly to the Packers so Gutekunst has some important decisions to make about both Jones and Dillon.
Packers Running Back Depth
The Packers have four players on the 90-man roster fighting for what is likely one roster spot. The incumbent is Patrick Taylor. The Memphis product won the job last season on the strength of his special teams play and blocking ability. He has good size and a reliable track record as a depth running back. The question is does he have enough upside to win the third job again?
Taylor is scheduled to be a restricted free agent after the 2023 season. The Packers can certainly re-sign him if they feel he is ready to take on a bigger role.
Tyler Goodson proved himself to be a dynamic runner during the preseason in 2022. He has looked strong again during OTAs. Goodson may be the most dangerous candidate with the ball in his hands. He still must prove he can contribute on special teams and keep Jordan Love safe in pass protection. If he improves in those areas, he could win a roster spot this season.
Goodson is also not under contract beyond the 2023 campaign and will be an exclusive rights free agent next offseason if he makes the roster.
The Rookie Contenders
Draft pick Lew Nichols III is also in the mix for the Packers at running back. A seventh-round pick out of Central Michigan, Nichols has a monster season in 2021, gaining 1,848 yards on the ground and catching 40 passes. He ran for 16 touchdowns and caught two more. Injuries slowed Nichols in 2022 and his numbers fell off significantly.
Nichols is unproven at this point. He’s healthy now and hopes to prove he can be the answer as a dual threat with the potential to become a starter down the road. He is also under contract in 2024 which would be the second year of his rookie contract.
Undrafted free agent Emanuel Wilson is also fighting for the final roster spot. He gained more than 1,300 yards rushing last season with Fort Valley State and scored 17 touchdowns. Wilson stands 5’11” and weighs 226. He is considered a long shot to make the roster but will get a chance to show what he can do at OTAs and in training camp.
Right now, running back looks like one of the stronger positions on the roster. Next season looks a lot more uncertain. Even though most GMs feel running backs can be found easily and quickly integrated into the offense, the Packers will want some continuity and proven talent on the position. It will be interesting to see who makes the roster this season and how Gutekunst handles the future at the position.
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