In 2019, the Green Bay Packers’ roster looks very different from how it appeared at the end of the 2018 season. A large group of free agents, draft picks, and undrafted rookies will come to training camp to challenge for roster spots and a role on the team’s regular season 53-man roster. Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the roster position-by-position and reveal our compiled predictions for the 53-man roster.
Today we begin our breakdowns by looking at the running back position.
Experience: Entering 3rd year
2018 Stats: 12 games played, 8 starts, 133 carries for 728 yards (5.5 YPC), 26 receptions on 35 targets, 206 yards (7.9 YPR), 9 total touchdowns.
How Acquired: Selected in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
This should be an interesting year for Aaron Jones. When healthy, he is unquestionably one of the league’s best pure runners. However, due to some lackluster playcalling and the superior blocking of Jamaal Williams, Jones has never really shined in the passing game. Jones was frequently a dangerous receiver in college, where he was frequently the best player on the field, and he has the raw tools to become a dual-threat. But it’s worth noting as Matt LaFleur values a varied skill set above just about anything else.
With all of those caveats out of the way, Jones is a dynamic talent and should be the unquestioned starter. On the few plays in 2018 where he was allowed to roam downfield he flashed good hands and good instincts, and his pass blocking has improved consistently since his rookie season. Jones was a steal as a late-round pick, and his ability to punish defenses that lean too pass-heavy compensates for anything he does marginally worse than Williams. If he is healthy he should have a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Experience: Entering 3rd year
2018 Stats: 16 games played, 8 starts, 121 carries for 464 yards (3.8 YPC), 27 receptions on 41 targets, 206 yards (7.8 YPR), 3 total touchdowns.
How Acquired: Selected in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
It may seem odd that Williams was selected ahead of Jones, but in many ways he was more scoutable and, in many ways, that scouting was dead on. While Williams lacks the explosion of Jones, he’s the kind of do-everything back that Matt LaFleur is likely to love. Williams can punish undersized defensive players between the tackles, he is one of the best blocking backs in the league, and for a bigger back he has surprisingly soft hands.
The Packers have quietly had one of the league’s best rushing attacks for two seasons, and Williams’ versatility is a big part of that. With Jones often banged up, a do-everything backup is all but essential for the Packers, and Williams’ is about as perfect a fit as you’ll find.
2018 College Stats: 9 games, 158 carries, 995 yards (6.5 YCP), 16 receptions, 133 yards (8.3 Y/R), 13 total TDs.
How Acquired: Selected in the 6th round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Williams was limited in college by injuries and a few suspensions (a traffic stop turned up marijuana and a concealed weapon) which limited his counting stats, but he was extremely efficient on a play-by-play basis and his Mockdraftables comparables include Aaron Jones and Alvin Kamara.
Williams is a perfect late round pick as the talent is there, the athleticism is there, and if he can avoid issues off the field, there’s every chance in the world he can be the next Aaron Jones. His college numbers are only deceiving if you care whether a running back can give you 300 carries. The fact is that we have plenty of evidence of what he can do, and only a primitive, backward-thinking team really cares about volume anymore. Running back talent is plentiful, and the Packers have been adept at finding it late.
Experience: Entering his 2nd year in the NFL.
2018 Stats: 6 Special Teams tackles.
How Acquired: Signed to practice squad in October 2018; promoted to active roster later that month
Carson was a special teams contributor in 2018, but he didn’t see any time in the backfield and it’s difficult to see how he’ll find himself there this season outside of a catastrophe. Carson was a productive college player, and his profile suggests that there may be a decent power back in there somewhere. It’s not inconceivable that his special teams prowess and ability to fill the Jamaal Williams role in a pinch might keep him employed.
Then again, the Packers are stacked at the position, and running backs like Carson are a dime a dozen.
Experience: Entering 4th season in the NFL.
2015 College Stats: 12 games, 0 carries, 33 receptions, 355 yards (10.8 Y/R), 4 total TDs.
2018 NFL Stats: 1 reception, 2 yards.
How Acquired: Signed to the practice squad in October of 2018; promoted to active roster in December.
The biggest problem for Vitale is that he is essentially a fullback in a league without fullbacks. However, if we set aside labels for a moment, Vitale is an intriguing player. He has an elite RAS, and even for a regular RB he possess above-average athleticism.
With pick 197 in the 2016 NFL Draft, the #Buccaneers selected Dan Vitale, FB, Northwestern.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 13, 2019
He posted a Elite #RAS with Okay size, Great speed, Elite explosiveness, Great agility at the FB position.#Packers pic.twitter.com/rp6skxsXVz
And as you can see from his college stats, he’s a threat as a receiver.
LaFleur loves players who can excel in any formation. Someone like Vitale, who can line up to lead on a power running play while remaining a threat in the passing game, has a better chance to make the team that you might think.
Combine all of that with the fact that he has a high probability of morphing into a Green Bay fan favorite, and, well, you might want to pre-order your jersey now.
Experience: Entering 3rd year in the NFL
2018 Stats: 7 games, 1 carries, 2 yards, 5 receptions, 44 yards, 0 total TDs.
How Acquired: Signed to practice squad in 2018
Malcom Johnson is power/full back/H-back/special teamer, and former Brown, who has a big uphill battle to crack a stacked Packer backfield. His ability to split out as a tight end, and his imposing frame probably give him a punchers’ chance should an injury or two occurs, but Johnson is just a guy.