2020 Season in Review - Running Backs and Full Backs
Another day, another position! In our second instalment of reviewing every player at every position, we turn our attentions to the running backs. How did they fair in 2020?
In 2020, Aaron Jones continued his form of the previous season and not only gave the Packers a consistent threat in the run game but gave them a big play ability from the running back spot that the Packers haven’t had for a few years before Jones.
Jones played and started in 14 games in 2020 (he was inactive for the other 2 games – weeks 7 and 8 - due to a calf injury). He carried the ball 201 times for 1,104 yards (4th in the NFL), with 9 touchdowns and demonstrated his breakaway speed with a 77 yard touchdown run against the Eagles (week 13) and a 75 yard touchdown run against the Lions (week 2) – in the process becoming the first back in team history to have 2 runs of 75+ yards. He also notched up three 100 yard rushing games, including a season’s best 168 yards against the Lions in week 2.
Jones has speed, and elusiveness, but also surprising strength for a player of his size (5-9, 210). He also has the ability to cut quickly, which is a huge asset in the outside zone running game – all of these assets enabled Jones to average 5.49 yards per carry in 2020 – a Packers single-season record (minimum 200 attempts), breaking the mark (5.42) set by Jim Taylor in 1962.
With all of this success rushing the football, it was no surprise that Jones earned his first Pro Bowl spot – becoming the first Packer RB to make the Pro Bowl since 2013 (Eddie Lacy) and just the third since 2000 (Ahman Green was the other in addition to Jones and Lacy). By rushing for over 1,000 yards, he became just the 7th back in Packers history to pass that 1,000 mark in two or more seasons.
Packers - Seasons with 1,000 Yards Rushing
6 - Ahman Green
5 - Jim Taylor
3 - John Brockington
2 - Dorsey Levens, Ryan Grant, Eddie Lacy, Aaron Jones
1 - Terdell Middleton, Edgar Bennett, Tony Canadeo
We haven’t yet mentioned Jones as a pass receiver. Again in 2020, he provided Aaron Rodgers with another receiving asset, a huge threat coming out of the backfield. Jones caught 47 passes for 355 yards and 2 touchdowns at a healthy 7.2 average. When combining Jones’ rushing yards (1,104) and receiving yards (355) he totalled 1,459 yards from scrimmage – 7th in the league.
Jones is also a secure handler of the football, having just 2 fumbles throughout the entire Regular Season (on 556 touches). It was particularly unfortunate then that he had the equivalent of a whole season of fumbles in the NFC Championship Game (and then left the game with a chest injury). But even that huge disappointment can’t take away from the massive contribution that Jones has made to the Packers success over recent seasons – during that time he has become just the 2nd player in NFL history to have 3000+ rushing yards, 35+ rushing touchdowns and 5+ yards per carry in his first 4 seasons – Jim Brown was the other, that’s great company to keep!
Jones is now an unrestricted free agent and therefore it is quite possible that he may not be back with the team in 2021. The Packers would love to have him back, but there may well be a team out there willing to pay him a huge contract that Green Bay just can’t match. For anybody wondering, the franchise tag for a RB in 2021 will be around $10.8m – surely too much for the Packers. We’ll have to see how the situation with Jones pans out and just keep our fingers crossed.
With the possibility that Jones moves on, here is a brief synopsis of his career rushing numbers and where Jones fits in Packers history:
Aaron Jones - Packers Career Rushing
Rushing Yards - 3,364 - 11th in Packers history
Rushing Attempts - 651 - 15th in Packers history
Rushing Touchdowns - 37 - 4th (tied) in Packers history
Yards Per Attempt - 5.17 - 1st in Packers history (500 attempts)
Rushing Yards Per Game - 62.3 - 6th in Packers history
100 Yards Rushing Games - 11 - 5th (tied) in Packers history
Williams is simply just a good football player. He is a good runner, who is physical and will pick up the tough yards. Coming out of the backfield, Williams is a much better receiver than given credit for and has a knack for getting open. Add to those skills is his ability to pass block and you have an all-round NFL back. About the only thing lacking from Williams’ game is the speed that Aaron Jones possesses.
In 2020, Williams was his usual self. He played in 14 games (starting 3) – he was inactive in another and missed 1 game altogether when he was on the COVID-19 reserve list. He carried the ball 119 times for 505 yards at a solid 4.2 average per carry, with 2 touchdowns. Williams also caught 31 passes for 236 yards at a 7.6 average, with 1 touchdown and had 1 kick-off return for 20 yards. He also had 2 special teams tackles (both solo).
Williams now has 1,985 career rushing yards – placing him 22nd on the Packers all-time list. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that he may not increase that rushing output - he is now an unrestricted free agent and therefore it’s a possibility that Williams may not be back with the team in 2021.
Dillon was the Packers 2nd round selection (62nd overall) in the 2020 draft and whilst his opportunities to shine this past year were few and far between, when he did get to play, he was impressive and a load for defenses to deal with. This was best demonstrated when he ran for 124 yards (on 21 carries) with 2 touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans (when both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams were injured). This performance made Dillon the youngest player in team history to rush for 100+ yards and 2 touchdowns in the same game – a performance for which he won NFL Rookie of the Week honours. The 21 carries he had against the Titans was the season high for any Packers ball-carrier in 2020.
For the season Dillon, who signed a 4yr/$5.285 rookie contract in July, played in 11 games (no starts) – having missed the other 5 games when he was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. He ended the season with 46 rushing attempts for 242 yards, at a very impressive 5.3 average, with 2 touchdowns. Not surprisingly he was most effective running through the A Gap – according to PFF, he averaged 7.0 yards per attempt through the A Gap. He also caught 2 passes for 21 yards in the Regular Season (plus a further reception in the play-offs) – with very limited opportunities it still looks like Dillon will be better in the passing game than many analysts predicted.
Many were surprised when the Packers selected him in the 2020 draft, but not only did he prove his worth with his play on the field (albeit with limited opportunities), but the Packers are in danger of losing both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams through free agency – having Dillon around for 2021, with a year’s experience in the offensive system, makes an awful lot of sense now. We should look forward to Dillon getting a lot more playing time in 2021.
Having picked up the intriguing Tyler Ervin on a 1 year deal in 2019, the Packers re-signed him as unrestricted free agent on 30th March 2020 to another 1 year deal ($1.0475m). Ervin played in 8 games in 2020 (no starts) – missing the remainder due to wrist and foot injuries (he was inactive for 4 games and on Injured Reserve for the other 4). Demonstrating his versatility, Ervin played 142 offensive snaps, rushing 13 times for 67 yards (5.2 average) and catching 11 passes for 84 yards (7.6 average). On special teams, he had 5 punt returns for 20 yards (4.0 average) and 10 kick returns for 196 yards (19.6 average).
Ervin brings an interesting set of skills to the Packers. His speed, quickness and decisiveness mean that the contribution he makes in multiple roles is invaluable and he notably brings an offensive threat (on plays such as the jet sweep) that opens up the offense. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent again in the Spring, but it would be no surprise to see the Packers bring him back for 2021.
After a 2019 rookie season in which he struggled to make an impact, albeit on very limited opportunities, Williams was looking to bounce back in 2020. But being stuck behind a talented group of running backs (Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and A.J. Dillon, not to mention utility back Tyler Ervin) meant that his chances were going to be few and far between – and so it proved.
Williams was waived at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September but re-signed by the Packers to the Practice Squad 5 days later. During the regular season, he was elevated to the active roster on 3 occasions (week 7 v Texans, week 9 v 49ers as a COVID-19 replacement and week 16 v Titans). He also spent nearly 5 weeks on the Practice Squad-Injured Reserve list. For the season, Williams played in 3 games, with no starts, and was in on just 7 offensive snaps – carrying the ball 2 times for 8 yards. He also had 1 tackle on special teams (1 solo).
Just prior to the NFC Championship Game, Williams was released from the Practice Squad to make room for the re-signing of punter Ryan Winslow. Dexter was then signed to a new contract on 25th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year. With an interesting free agency period coming up, it’s possible that Williams has more of a chance on making an impact in 2021 than he has in either of his two year so far.
Patrick Taylor Jr.
Taylor had an injury hit senior season at Memphis in 2019 and thus went unselected in the 2020 draft. But the Packers saw enough in Taylor to want to give him an opportunity and signed him as an undrafted free agent at the end of April. Taylor subsequently underwent off-season foot surgery and the Packers placed him on the Non-Football Injury List at the final roster cutdown on 5th September. Taylor remained on that list for the whole of the season.
It will be interesting to see if Taylor gets a chance in camp and pre-season in 2021 – if so, he has a chance of making the final roster. He is a multi-dimensional back who can run and catch and would seem to be a good fit for the Packers offense.
Mike Weber was 7th round draft choice of the Cowboys in 2019 and although he never made the Cowboys 53 man roster that year, he did spend the season on their Practice Squad, In 2020, he spent a little bit of time with the Chiefs on their off-season roster but was waived in May. Without a contract, Weber was eventually signed to the Practice Squad of the Packers on 11th November and was elevated to the active roster for 2 games – week 11 and week 12 – but did not play.
Weber was signed to a new contract by the Packers on 25th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year.
No Longer With the Team
Crockett was on the Packers Practice Squad in 2019 and the team re-signed him to a reserve/futures contract on 21st January 2020. Competing again for a roster spot in a stacked backfield, meant that Crockett’s chances of making the final 53 were very low and so it proved. He was waived on the final roster cutdown on 5th September and while he was signed to Practice Squad the following day, his stay was short – being released 4 days later when Dexter Williams was signed. He spent no time on the active roster and therefore played in 0 games.
Lovett is a hybrid fullback/tight end who played his college ball at Princeton in multiple positions before being picked up as undrafted free agent by Kansas City, where he spent time on their Practice Squad. He was waived by the Chiefs at the end of July 2020.
The Packers picked Lovett up immediately and he was in strong competition for a roster spot before being waived at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September. Green Bay subsequently signed him to their Practice Squad, and he was elevated to the active roster for both week 1 and week 2. With no more activations available for the season for Lovett, the Packers liked his skills so much that they promoted him to the full active roster for week 3. Unfortunately for Lovett (and the Packers) he suffered a torn ACL in early November was placed on Injured Reserve for the remainder of the year.
Lovett had seen action in 8 games (0 starts), carrying the ball 3 times for 6 yards – all of those coming in the week 9 game in San Francisco. He also had 1 kick-off return for 5 yards, having fielded the ball as an upback. In total, Lovett saw action in 45 offensive snaps and 112 special teams snaps (notching up 4 special teams tackles, including 3 solos). Injury permitting, we should fully expect to see Lovett back and strongly competing for a roster spot in 2021, although the injury may prevent that until around midseason.
No Longer With the Team
Wellman is another hybrid fullback/tight end type who went undrafted out of West Virginia in 2018. He spent time with Washington in both 2018 and 2019 without making the final roster, so when the Packers signed Wellman to a reserve/future contract on 6th January 2020 it seemed that his chances of making the roster, even at that time, were slim. And so it proved, as Wellman’s opportunity to make the team seemingly disappeared when the Packers picked up John Lovett off waivers – Wellman was subsequently being waived on 3rd August.
Yet another hybrid fullback/tight end, Jones was an undrafted free agent out of Prairie View A&M who the Packers signed immediately after the draft (on 29th April). Jones always had an uphill battle to make the roster and that chance disappeared when the Packers picked up John Lovett off waivers at the end of July. Jones was waived when Lovett was signed.
Find Peter on twitter here: @The_IT_Hedgehog