For the past 28 years, the Green Bay Packers have been a blessed organization. It started in 1992 when Brett Favre took over as the Packers starting quarterback. When the Packers decided to move on from Favre, it would be Aaron Rodgers turn. Since 2008, the Packers offense has been primarily led by an already Hall of Fame quarterback and another who is destined for Canton. Both Favre and Rodgers have been at the helm of a pass dominated Packers offense. But while Rodgers is still the starting quarterback, the Packers offense will have a much different look this coming season. In 2020, all signs are pointing to the Green Bay Packers running backs leading the way for the offense.
Green Bay Packers Running Backs Will Be Leaned on Heavily This Year
Since Matt LaFleur took over as the Packers head coach, he has stated the offense will be tied to the Packers rushing attack. Last season, he showed just how much it would be.
The Packers offense dealt with some growing pains under their first-year head coach and offensive play-caller. But the Packers rushing attack was one area that found success under LaFleur. They finished last season 15th in the NFL in rushing with 1,795 yards with 18 rushing touchdowns. The player who benefited the most under LaFleur’s style of offense was running back Aaron Jones.
Jones finished the season with 1,084 rushing yards with 16 rushing touchdowns. Both were career highs for the former fifth-round draft choice. That success has LaFleur and the rest of the Packers offense hoping they can build on that success for this season.
If LaFleur is going to build the Packers rushing attack to the level of the San Francisco 49ers rushing attack, he will need for the offensive line as well as the running backs to elevate their play.
All Starts up Front
Starting left offensive tackle David Bakhtiari has made a name for himself with his pass protection. But last season, he showed he is a very capable run blocker as well. His ability to open up holes on the left side was helped out by the play of starting left guard Elgton Jenkins. Jenkins, who was a second-round pick in 2019, played exceptionally. Jenkins stepped in for former starting left guard Lane Taylor and started 14 games. As pointed out by Packerswire.usatoday.com, Pro Football Focus gave Jenkins play a top ten overall grade for left guards in the NFL. If the Packers need to establish the run, there isn’t much doubt that it will be behind Bakhtiari and Jenkins.
The right side of the Packers offensive line does have some questions though. Rick Wagner signed this off-season to replace former starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga. While Bulaga dealt with injuries throughout his career, when he was healthy, he was an exceptional run blocker. Wagner, can be an exceptional run blocker, but like with Bulaga, he has dealt with injuries during his career.
Billy Turner signed as a free agent prior to the 2019 season. He started every game for the Packers at right guard last season. Turner’s play was uneven and he had his struggles. He is an exceptional athlete, but he will need to play better if the Packers rushing attack is going to be successful this season.
Packers starting center Corey Linsley is a strong run blocker. However, this might be Linsley’s last season as the Packers starting center. He is entering the final year of his contract. The Packers drafted center Jake Hanson in the sixth round of this year’s draft and it appears he will be in line to take over for Linsley if he departs.
Packers Returning Running Backs
Last season, Jones was the Packers offensive MVP. His numbers were strong, but more will be expected from him this coming season. In 2019, Jones was able to show that he can be a durable ball carrier as well as productive. He carried the ball 236 times, which was a career-best. Former Packer head coach Mike McCarthy seemed reluctant to give Jones that many carries. It led many to believe Jones couldn’t withstand the hits coming from that many carries. But Jones showed last season he is up for the challenge.
Jones appears to be a budding star. But his backup, Jamaal Williams, has shown he is very capable of contributing to the Packers rushing attack when called on. While Jones gets most of the attention, Williams has put up solid numbers as a backup. In his three seasons with the Packers, Williams has averaged 493 rushing yards with a 3.8 yards per carry average. Jones is the home run hitter for the Packers rushing attack. But if the Packers need to get a tough couple of yards on the ground, Williams is able to do so.
Jones and Williams are still expected to be the Packers one-two punch in 2020. But there is a new addition that might break into the rotation in 2020.
A.J. Dillon Brings Something Else to the Packers Ground Game
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was expected to upgrade the Packers wide receiver position through the draft. After turning his back on wide receiver in the first round, many thought it would happen in the second. Instead, he decided to give LaFleur another piece for his rushing attack.
A.J. Dillon doesn’t shy away from contact when he is running the ball. He displayed that throughout his three-year career at Boston College. In every season at Boston College, he rushed for over 1,000 yards. In his freshman season, he rushed for 1,589 yards, in his sophomore season he rushed for 1,108 yards, and last season, he rushed for 1,685 yards. He had a grand total of 38 rushing touchdowns.
Standing 6’0″ and weighing 247 lbs, Dillon brings a different size to the Packers running back position. His running style has drawn comparisons to Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. The comparison to Henry should make LaFleur happy. LaFleur was Henry’s offensive coordinator in 2018. That season, Henry rushed for 1,059 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns. There isn’t much doubt that LaFleur is hoping Dillon can be at least half as productive as Henry has been with the Titans.
If Dillon is going to be a factor in the Packers rushing attack, he will need to outplay Williams to do so. Even with being a second-round pick, it won’t be easy. Williams is a tough runner who doesn’t get nearly the credit he should. Dillon will be under a spotlight, not just this season, but throughout his career with the Packers. The Packers needed help at wide receiver but instead grabbed Dillon. He will need to show he was worthy of a second-round selection.
Packers Offensive Success Will Depend on the Rushing game
Gutekunst and LaFleur need for the Packers rushing attack to be successful. If it isn’t, there is a good possibility the Packers will once again need to be bailed out by Rodgers. It isn’t hard to see, LaFleur wants to run the same type of offense that the 9ers implement. That is run the ball to set up the passing game. He believes that if you have a successful rushing attack, it will open up the passing game through play action.
But if the Packers rushing attack fails, it will leave the Packers offense one dimensional. Rodgers, even with what you have read about him this off-season, is still a successful NFL quarterback. Wide receiver Davante Adams is one of the best in the NFL. But after that, the Packers don’t have the talent or depth to depend solely on the passing game.
Gutekunst and LaFleur have put their eggs all in the Packers rushing attack basket. If the ground game fails, Gutekunst and LaFleur will face a lot of criticism. Especially for not surrounding Rodgers with the necessary weapons in the passing game to succeed.
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