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Packers 2017 acquisitions: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams shined in lost season

While the Packers’ passing game stagnated without Aaron Rodgers, the ground attack quietly performed among the league’s best.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2017 season. Today, we examine the running backs.

The Green Bay Packers always intended for the ground game to play a large role in their offense. Ty Montgomery provided a spark for the unit down the stretch in 2016, and the team expected him to build upon that performance with a full offseason preparing as a running back. Instead, Montgomery handled just 71 carries before wrist and rib injuries shut him down for the year.

The loss of Montgomery forced the Packers to deploy their rookie tailbacks, with two seeing significant action over the course of the 2017 season.

Jamaal Williams

How acquired: Drafted in fourth round (No. 134 overall)
Stats: 153 carries for 556 yards (3.6 average), four touchdowns; 25 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns

Jamaal Williams entered training camp as the Packers’ presumptive No. 2 running back and maintained that role heading into the season. However, when Montgomery struggled with efficiency and injuries, Williams provided little boost, registering just over 3 yards per carry through the first half of the year. He ceded his place in the backfield hierarchy and became an afterthought.

However, when injuries reopened the starting job later in the year, Williams made the most of his second chance. Despite Brett Hundley and the passing game doing little to keep opposing defenses from keying on the run, Williams delivered monster performances in Week 9 against the Chicago Bears (seven broken tackles) and during a Week 12 tilt with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (21 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown). Through improved play during the back half of 2017, Williams even raised his season average to 3.63 yards per carry.

Williams faces plenty of competition for the top spot in the backfield next season, but the success of his second act in 2017 should give him plenty to build upon with the coaching staff.

Aaron Jones

How acquired: Drafted in fifth round (No. 182 overall)
Stats: 81 carries for 448 yards (5.5 average), four touchdowns; nine receptions for 22 yards

An outlier among the running backs the Packers drafted last April, Aaron Jones possessed the speed and elite athleticism to outclass his rookie counterparts but lacked their mass and power. However, when injuries sidelined Montgomery and Williams, Jones’ relatively diminutive stature didn’t hold him back. The UTEP product routinely popped off for large gains, producing over half the team’s rushes of 20 or more yards. He also demonstrated a knack for ball security, never fumbling any of his 90 combined touches. When the Packers needed a big play during Rodgers’ absence, Jones usually provided.

Jones’ didn’t produce huge receiving numbers (nine catches for 22 yards), but his comfort operating as a pass catcher out of the backfield appeared greater than his fellow rookie tailbacks. As the Packers attempt to spice up their offense, deploying more of Jones’ unique skill set should pay dividends.

But while Jones’ efficient play will earn him a chance to start in 2018, health concerns could derail those efforts. Jones missed multiple weeks with an MCL sprain before another knee injury cost him time at the end of the season. Perhaps those issues stem from the same root, but if Jones’ health continues to bother him, he could lose ground on Williams for the top spot in the backfield.

Devante Mays

How acquired: Drafted in seventh round (No. 238 overall)
Stats: Four carries for 1 yard (0.3 average); three receptions for 0 yards

The second-to-last selection of the Packers’ 2017 draft class, Devante Mays played an extremely limited role on offense during his rookie season. That lack of action largely stems from ball security issues (he somehow fumbled two of his four carries) and the superior play of his fellow rookie runners. Mays has to demonstrate considerable improvement during his second year if he hopes to stick around Green Bay for the 2018 season.