2019 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 and full backs. How did they fair in 2019?
The third year back had a career year with 1,084 rushing yards (becoming the Packers first 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy in 2014 and just the 10th in Packers history), whilst leading the league with 16 touchdowns on the ground. His yards came on just 236 carries, meaning he averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt. Jones’ efforts also included five 100-yard rushing games. He was also a huge threat coming out of the backfield as a receiver, notching 474 receiving yards on 49 receptions at 9.7 yard per catch average with 3 more scores. Jones fumbled 3 times, recovering 1.
Jones’ 19 total touchdowns tied for the NFL lead and the second highest single season mark in Packers history (20, Ahman Green, 2003). He started all 16 regular season games and played in 663 offensive snaps (61.5% of the team’s offensive total). Jones was extremely unlucky to be named as just an alternate for the Pro Bowl. PFF ranked him as the 56th best player (3rd highest placed Packer) in the NFL in 2019 regardless of position. Jones was twice named NFC Offensive Player of the Week in 2019 (week 5 and week 8).
Entering 2020, hopes are high that 2019 points the way for Jones to challenge to become the league’s top multi-dimensional back and to notch up even bigger numbers than he did this past year.
Packers – Number of Seasons with 1,000 Yards Rushing:
6 – Ahman Green
5 – Jim Taylor
3 – John Brockington
2 – Dorsey Levens, Ryan Grant, Eddie Lacy
1 – Terdell Middleton, Edgar Bennett, Tony Canadeo, Aaron Jones
Williams played in 14 games and started 2 when the Packers opened with a “Pony” type backfield (2 tailbacks – Williams and Jones). He continues to be a tough runner able to pick up the hard yards but with quicker feet than he is given credit for – although he lacks the top end speed that the very best backs have. Williams picked up 460 yards on the ground on 107 carries (4.3-yard average) and 1 touchdown. He was also excellent as a receiver – catching 39 passes for 253 yards (6.5-yard average) and 5 touchdowns. Williams also had a single kick-off return for 9 yards. Significantly, on 147 touches of the football, Williams never fumbled once and dropped just a single pass. He played in 373 offensive snaps (34.6% of the team’s offensive total).
Williams will again go into the 2020 season as the primary back-up and change of pace guy at running back. 2020 is the last year on his rookie contract, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it will be his last season with the Packers.
Williams was drafted by the Packers in the 6th round in the 2019 draft (194th overall pick) but took a while to settle - being behind Jones and Jamaal Williams on the depth chart was always going to limit his opportunities but he clearly struggled to earn the trust of the offensive coaches. At times, he dropped to 4th on the running back depth chart (behind the likes of Tra Carson and Tyler Ervin). Williams played in 4 games (no starts) and carried the ball just 5 times for 11 yards (2.2 average). He saw action in just 10 offensive snaps (0.9% of the team’s offensive total).
Williams will be under pressure in 2020 to retain a roster spot – it wouldn’t be surprising if the Packers drafted another running back in the later rounds in April.
A kick returner and sometime running back, Ervin was claimed off waivers from Jacksonville on 3rd December, replacing Tremon Smith who was waived the previous day. In 4 regular season games (no starts), Ervin hugely upgraded the Packers poor return game – returning 6 kick-offs for 160 yards (26.7-yard average) and 11 punts for 106 yards (9.6-yard average). Ervin also had 1 carry for 10 yards on a jet sweep play and 2 receptions for 11 yards. He had 1 fumble which he recovered himself. Ervin played in 24 offensive snaps (2.2% of the team’s offensive total). As well as his clear return skills, the Packers are intrigued by his ability to play out of the backfield and line up as a receiver.
Ervin’s all-round potential means that he has a great chance of an increased role in 2020 – he is, however, an unrestricted free agent so it’s possible that other teams will vie for his services.
Carson played a little with the Packers in 2018 (4 games) and was in camp competing for a roster spot in 2019. He was signed to the Packers' Practice Squad on 1st September, having been waived at the final cut-down to the 53-man roster the previous day. He was then activated on 5th October - playing in 2 games for the Packers, carrying the ball 6 times for 14 yards (2.3-yard average) and catching 4 passes for 18 yards (4.5-yard average). He was waived again on 16th October (being signed the next day by the Detroit Lions). For the Packers, he played in just 24 offensive snaps (2.2% of the team’s offensive total).
Crockett was signed to the Practice Squad on 16th October and remained there for the rest of the season without being promoted to the full roster. Crockett signed a futures contract with the Packers just after the season finished, meaning that he’ll be back in 2020 competing for a roster spot.
Ford was signed off waivers (from Indianapolis Colts) on 6th August but was waived on the Packers final 53-man roster cut-down (31st August). He recently signed to play in the upcoming XFL for the St. Louis BattleHawks.
Hall was signed off waivers (from the Cincinnati Bengals) on 27th July but was waived on 24th August. He was later signed to the Steelers' Practice Squad (November) and Pittsburgh recently signed him to a futures contract for the 2020 season.
Grant, who had previously spent 3 years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was signed as a street free agent by the Packers on 26th July but was waived shortly afterwards (8th August).
Bibbs played 2 games for the Packers at the end of 2018 but failed to make it through training camp this time around, being waived on 14th June. In November, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported that Bibbs had been suspended for a week by the NFL (no reason was given).
The Packers went into the 2018 season without a fullback on the initial 53-man roster, which was a huge surprise. But Matt LaFleur’s offense was known to utilise the fullback and with Vitale already in Green Bay (he came to the Packers midway through the 2018 season), going into 2019 without a fullback was never going to happen again this past year.
Vitale duly won the fullback job (the Packers kept just one) and played in 15 games, starting in 4 – he missed the regular season finale in Detroit. He had just a single rushing attempt for 3 yards but did catch 7 passes for 97 yards at a 13.9 yard per reception average.
Vitale saw action in 170 offensive snaps (15.8% of the team’s offensive total), which perhaps was a slightly lower number of snaps than may have been expected. He was also a huge contributor on special teams – notching up 7 tackles (equal 3rd on the team) on 228 special teams plays (53.2%). He was responsible for a single penalty (holding).
Vitale, an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season, has signed with the New England Patriots for 2020.
Wellman was signed on 6th January 2020 to a futures contract meaning that he should be part of the 90-man off-season roster and compete for a 2020 roster spot in camp.
Johnson spent time on the Packers' Practice Squad in 2018 and was in camp this past summer competing for a roster spot. He was waived/injured at the cut-down to the 53-man roster (31st August) and subsequently went unclaimed through the waiver process - by rule he reverted to injured reserve. Johnson is a restricted free agent and it seems unlikely that he’ll be around to challenge for a roster spot in 2020.
The veteran fullback, who had previously played with the Jets and Jaguars, was signed by the Packers on 12th August but was waived just over two weeks later at the cut-down to the 53-man roster. Bohanon was later drafted by the XFL’s New York Guardians.
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