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Packers 2023 Roster Prediction: Questions remain about Green Bay’s third RB

Lew Nichols, Patrick Taylor and Tyler Goodson are likely fighting for just one job on the Packers’ 53-man roster.

Syndication: PackersNews USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

Yesterday, Acme Packing Company began its series of position-by-position 53-man roster predictions, as voted on by APC’s staff. Tex Western covered the quarterbacks on Tuesday, of which we expect only two players at the position to make the team’s final roster.

In the second edition of this series, we’re going to take a look at the running back position, which is a position of strength for the Green Bay Packers. For perspective, starter Aaron Jones’ 1,920 rushing yards over the last two seasons ranks ninth in the NFL over that time period and AJ Dillon’s 1,573 yards ranks 21st. Only one other team, the Dallas Cowboys, has had two ball carriers post more rushing yards than Dillons has recorded over the last two seasons. Unlike the Cowboys — who have moved on from Ezekiel Elliott — the Packers return both of their productive backs for 2023.

Starter: Aaron Jones

It isn’t going to shock anyone that Aaron Jones is going to be listed as the starter here. As mentioned already, though, this is going to be closer to a running back by committee than a situation where Jones is the bell cow.

Jones has started every game (62) that he’s played in since the start of the 2019 season, and we don’t expect that to change. With that being said, Jones has recorded just 384 attempts to Dillon’s 373 attempts over the last two years, despite the fact that Jones has notched 27 more starts in just two fewer games than Dillon. Jones is going to be on the field for the first snap of the game, but he’s going to get plenty of breathers in the Packers’ thunder-and-lightning backfield.

Backups: AJ Dillon and Lew Nichols

Speaking of Dillon, expect him to continue to get plenty of short-yardage and goal-line work. Over the last two seasons, Dillon has punched in 12 rushing touchdowns to Jones’ six. Don’t be surprised if there are more true handoffs near the goal line and in short-yardage, too, as those were situations where former quarterback Aaron Rodgers was known for putting the ball in his own hands in run-pass option (RPO) calls. With a new quarterback in Jordan Love, maybe head coach Matt LaFleur will be less aggressive with the RPO calls and lean on the ground game in short-yardage situations.

Based on the data from Pro Football Reference’s play finder ($), Dillon has carried the ball 36 times to Jones’ 24 on third and fourth down with three or fewer yards to go over the last two seasons. From the five-yard line going into the end zone, Dillon has also outpaced Jones with 21 vs 11 rushing attempts in that area of the field over the same time period.

The true wildcard here is what the Packers are going to do with their RB3 situation. Last season, the answer was supposed to be former draft pick Kylin Hill, who was let go shortly after he was activated off of the physically unable to perform list due to what appears to have been a disciplinary issue. Because of Hill’s release, Patrick Taylor was used in 14 games last season as an emergency running back who recorded 33 offensive snaps to 122 special teams reps. Taylor moved on and off the practice squad and 53-man roster throughout the year, but there were times when the Packers simply went into games with just two backs.

At the moment, the expectation is that rookie running back Lew Nichols, a seventh-round draft pick, should be able to push Taylor for the third running back job. Nichols is a big back (listed at 5’10” and 220 pounds) who has experience as an inside runner, pass protector and pass catcher. The question is if Nichols’ 4.61-second 40-yard dash speed is going to be enough to cut it at the professional level.

Released: Patrick Taylor, Tyler Goodson and Emanuel Wilson

As we mentioned earlier, Taylor is certainly a contender for the RB3 job. Another name to keep an eye on is Tyler Goodson, who many thought had a chance to make the 53-man roster after his preseason performance last season. Somewhat of a fan favorite last summer, Goodson — a smaller, shiftier pass-catching type of back — posted 29 carries for 107 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown during the 2022 preseason. The truly unknown commodity here is Emanuel Wilson, an undrafted rookie out of D2’s Fort Valley State, who was signed in May after being waived off of the Denver Broncos’ summer roster.

Stay tuned on Wednesday as we continue our series by shifting our focus to the receiver position.