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Packers 2018 Roster Grades: Second-year RBs displayed continued growth and production

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Despite playcalling controversies, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams proved their worth to the Green Bay offense.

Green Bay Packers v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 roster position-by-position, providing our grades for each spot and looking ahead to free agency. Today, we continue with the running backs.

Even in victory, the Green Bay Packers’ offense was far from a well-oiled machine in 2018. And as Aaron Rodgers struggled through injury and inconsistency, as noted in yesterday’s season grades at the quarterback position, the Packers seemed resistant to adjustments.

One of those major hurdles was how to best employ Green Bay’s young stable of running backs, notably Aaron Jones. While the Packers’ ratio of passing to running plays was almost 3:2 in 2017, that rate climbed to nearly 2:1 in 2018. And while some of that difference can be attributed to playing from behind in many games, the reality is Green Bay just did not fully commit to the rushing game for most of the season.

Though some may argue that a balanced offense in today’s NFL is no longer necessary, the Packers’ running game was one of the team’s strongest dynamics during the 2018 campaign. Here is a look back at some of the individuals that continued to progress.

Starters

Aaron Jones

12 games active, 8 starts
133 attempts-728 yards (5.5 average), 8 touchdowns, 26 receptions-206 yards (7.9 average), 1 touchdown

For a second consecutive season, Jones averaged 5.5 yards per carry, even with 52 additional rushing attempts. Still, that did not seem to be enough for the Mike McCarthy-led offense and the use of Jones was a debated topic by fans and media throughout the first three-quarters of the season.

The second-year back from UTEP only eclipsed the 100-yard mark one time, a 145-yard outburst against Miami in Week 9, but he rushed for over 70 yards on four other occasions. While doubling his rushing scores total from his rookie season, Jones became much more of a threat in the passing game. With just nine catches for 22 yards in his first season, Jones significantly improved on those numbers in 2018 and improved his pass blocking as well.

After McCarthy was fired, Jones was only able to play one full game before suffering a knee injury against Chicago in Week 14 that ended his season. His 17 carries that lone week versus Atlanta tied for a season high. With the hiring of Matt LaFleur, who has been instrumental in the breakout of backs like Todd Gurley and Derrick Henry in the past, there is plenty of optimism that the Packers will provide Jones with more touches and receive a big boost as soon as next season.

Jamaal Williams

16 games active; 8 starts
121 attempts-464 yards (3.8 average), 3 touchdowns, 27 receptions-210 yards (7.8 average)

The emergence of Jones as a dynamic back in 2018 resulted in fewer carries for Williams. But as he did when Jones missed time in 2017, Williams stepped up when called upon and appeared in every game.

Williams’ highlight of the season was his 95-yard rushing and 61-yard receiving game against the New York Jets in Week 15, becoming an instrumental piece in Green Bay’s overtime victory. Without Aaron Ripkowski, Williams saw many snaps as the third-down back and remained the Packers’ most reliable pass blocker.

As a rookie, Williams seemed to grow as the season went along and he did that once again during his sophomore campaign in terms of his patience and decisiveness in his cuts. He will never be the home run threat that Jones is, but Williams can always be counted on to grind out the tough yards while aiding the passing game as a blocker and receiver. Like Jones, Williams should benefit from a LaFleur offense in 2019.

Backups

Ty Montgomery

7 games active, 0 starts
26 attempts-105 yards (4.0 average), 1 touchdown, 15 receptions-170 yards (11.3 average)

It is safe to say that the 2018 season did not go as expected for Montgomery. After minimal usage in the running game and a disastrous kickoff return fumble in Los Angeles, Montgomery was shipped to Baltimore before the trade deadline.

Expected to fill a role as a third-down back with his receiving skills, Montgomery did collect 15 receptions while in Green Bay. He took a back seat to Jones and Williams in the running attack, however, and frustrations seemingly mounted as a result. Although he saw the field on special teams with 10 returns, Green Bay decided to part ways before rumors further upset team chemistry.

With an expiring contract, it seemed unlikely the Packers would bring back Montgomery for 2019 regardless of the issues that arose in 2018. With Green Bay’s duo of backs ahead of him on the depth chart, it is hard to say the team really missed Montgomery in the aftermath of the trade.

Danny Vitale

5 games active, 0 starts
1 reception-2 yards

Vitale was signed to the Packers’ active roster on December 1 and earned playing time down the stretch. Another third-year player, Vitale made more of an appearance on Green Bay’s special teams units with 80 total snaps. Offensively, Vitale recorded 17 snaps with just one catch.

As the only true fullback on the Green Bay roster and a contract that extends through the 2019 season, Vitale may fight for a roster spot in training camp. However, occasional issues with missed tackles on special teams and missed blocks on offense in 2018 may work against him.

Tra Carson

4 games active, 0 starts

Added to the active roster on October 31, Carson played in four games with the Packers. He never got an offensive snap, but he did have 45 snaps on special teams and totaled a pair of tackles. Carson’s contract extends through 2019 and he may have an opportunity in training camp next season.

Kapri Bibbs

2 games active, 0 starts
1 attempt-2 yards, 3 receptions-13 yards

Green Bay claimed Bibbs off waivers from the Washington Redskins on December 17 and the third-year player was active for the final two games of the season. However, Bibbs earned more snaps on special teams (23) than offense (17).

On a two-year contract, Bibbs will remain in Green Bay this offseason, but he figures to have competition in camp for the third-string spot in the Packer backfield. He seems to be more of an end-of-the-year depth player than future contributor at this point.

Darius Jackson

2 games active, 0 starts

Jackson earned special teams snaps in the first two games of the season for Green Bay, but was waived on October 6 without playing a down on offense.

Lavon Coleman

1 game active, 0 starts

Signed on December 22, Coleman was active for a single game against New York in Week 15 and logged eight special teams snaps. Coleman was a non-factor in 2018 and, as a free agent, most likely will not be back in Green Bay.

Overall Grade: B+

The Packers employed a number of reserve backs in 2018, but it was the Jones-Williams show throughout the season with 1,192 yards rushing combined (up from 1,004 in 2017). The running backs group was one of the team’s strongest positions and this grade might have been even higher had the Packers not gotten away from the rushing attack in the second half of so many games. Jones’ lack of touches was particularly astounding when taking into account his production per carry and reception. Green Bay could have taken much more pressure off of Rodgers and his ailing knee by rushing more frequently and taking advantage of more check-down passes to the backs.

Under LaFleur, the running backs will be an intriguing unit to watch. While Green Bay could add a third back in the offseason that complements new offensive packages, the Packers are in good hands for the foreseeable future with their current one-two punch.