I’m about to say something I’ve never had to say with a smile on my face as a Green bay Packers fan: the Packers may have a running back problem.
And not in the “we need to balance the offense to take pressure off Rodgers” kind of way. I mean, the Packers legitimately have multiple options at running back. Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery have, at one point or another, proven that they can carry the rock in a convincing fashion. Unfortunately, Montgomery landed on Injured Reserve, so the Packers are relying on their rookie backfield. One would think that would be a problem, but not this season.
It’s been injuries that have positioned each of the rookie running backs to get opportunities (much like every other position on the Packers depth chart, but that’s a different story). Thankfully, Aaron Jones found himself back on the field this week against the Bucs after a knee injury kept him out a few weeks. After bouncing off a few linemen, Jones found himself in the endzone for the game-winning score and in the middle of a Jones vs. Williams debate.
It was the Williams show until Jones recovered — and even throughout last Sunday’s game up until the final play. So now who’s going to take lead back duties?
Williams actually has the most carries at 91, while Jones and Montgomery have received 71 apiece. From a fantasy perspective, Montgomery still leads the way with 91.6 total points in ESPN standard scoring, but Williams isn’t far behind with 88.9 and then Jones with 72.6. This is due in part because of Williams being an effective pass-catching weapon.
Jones is more explosive on the ground, though, and has averaged 5.5 yards per carry compared to Williams’ 3.7 YPC. This was easily on display in his overtime run against the Buccaneers. If it’s Williams on that play, I’m not sure he’s able to bounce it outside like Jones. Watch this clip from APC friend Ben Fennell:
#Packers rookie Aaron Jones... 6minutes left in OT - his 2nd snap of the game!!! ALWAYS BE READY!!! @Showtyme_33— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 5, 2017
22 personnel power play here... Jones always had knack for finding these backdoors pic.twitter.com/XThHj7Vi0X
The hole is completely collapsed, but Jones takes it back to the left side after the right defensive end failed to contain and David Bakhtiari even stopped blocking. There are a lot of backs that can get away with that in college, but only a few can at the NFL level.
Jamaal Williams on the other hand, is a physical, dare-you-to-tackle-me back. Look at these runs as he not only attacks the left side of the line, but keeps his legs churning for extra yardage:
Look at Jamaal Williams beasting through a dense web of his haters pic.twitter.com/e208ejaeMB— Matt Franciscovich (@MattFranchise) December 3, 2017
Williams clearly understands that football is a game of inches.
The easiest answer to who should carry the load: how about both?
There’s no need for the workhorse running back. Just ask the Patriots and the Saints. Both teams have found success on the ground deploying a two-headed monster with the Dion Lewis-Rex Burkhead duo in New England and the Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara tandem breaking opposing teams’ will. And from a fantasy perspective, neither back is taking a whole lot away from the other. In ESPN standard scoring, Kamara is averaging 19 fantasy points per game while Ingram is still putting up 16 points per. Lewis and Burkhead have more recently taken over running duties for New England, but they’re averaging 9.4 and 8.7 fantasy points, respectively.
Coach Mike McCarthy said in his most recent press conference that he prefers to switch backs based on personnel groups:
"One guy stays in the game. Jamaal [Williams] and Aaron [Jones] are high on instincts."
In order to most effectively utilize their rookie backs, expect the Packers to start Aaron Jones as the number one back and then have Jamaal Williams take over third down duties. Both will be able to stay as fresh as possible and with Williams the better goal line option and pass blocker, he’s better off on passing downs. As recently as Thursday before Week 14, Jones was listed as the starting running back on the Packers’ depth chart.
If you’re wondering whether to start Aaron Jones or Jamaal Williams in fantasy, I’d bet on Jones being a strong RB2 with Williams a high upside FLEX option in both standard and PPR leagues.
While the Packers wait and see if Aaron Rodgers returns this season, it’ll be the running back unit that can help grind out some wins as we reach the cold month of December.