With just one day left until the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s time to wrap up our look at prospects for the Green Bay Packers. Today’s look is at a running back — a position where the Packers’ needs are of the long-term variety.
One player who has been seeing a bit of a surge in interest for the Packers is AJ Dillon. The big, explosive back was a production monster in college, but some of his limitations make him a question mark for the type of blocking scheme that the Packers currently use. That, plus questions about his ability in the passing game, should probably leave him as a day-three value on the Packers’ board.
AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Dillon is large and powerfully built but has surprisingly good acceleration and feet. While he is a good athlete, Dillon does have some limitations with his lateral quickness and he can’t make overly sharp cuts. Dillon can cut well enough to redirect slightly if open gaps shift a bit, but he is not capable of making sharp backside cuts that might be expected of him in zone blocking concepts. Dillon also has limitations reading his blocking; he usually can identify seams that are already opened up, but he doesn’t anticipate seams that are about to open, so by the time he hits the gap defenders are usually starting to converge on it. The combination of limited vision and cutting ability reduces Dillon’s usefulness in zone concepts which require runners to identify seams that are about to open, sometimes well behind the running back requiring very sharp cuts. Dillon is much more at home in man blocking concepts where the gap is preordained and he can focus on barreling through the game full steam.
Once Dillon identified the gap, he accelerated very quickly and once he developed momentum he was very hard to take down. Dillon has a naturally low center of gravity and is very good at continuing to drive his legs after contact to maximize yards after contact. Dillon did have a bit of a weak point however in that he tended to run upright. If defenders attacked him low and kept their feet under them, it was possible to take Dillon down single handedly. Once Dillon was in the open field, he had enough speed and acceleration to break off surprisingly big chunks of yardage and was more of a home run threat than most running backs who rely on power.
As a pass blocker, Dillon is very capable so long as he can easily square up against the rusher. When Dillon is able to get in front of a rusher, he rolls his hips well into contact and strikes powerfully with his hands, usually stopping the defender in their tracks. Where Dillon runs into problems is when he’s forced to move laterally to get in front of a defender. Due to his limited lateral movement, Dillon sometimes struggled to reach rushers not coming directly at him and even when he was able to reach the rusher, he was often off balance. Dillon usually got enough of the rusher to prevent a sack, but he did allow more pressures than you would like to see.
Unfortunately, Dillon didn’t get the ball out of the backfield enough to get a good sense of his route running or how good his hands are.
Dillon is a powerful back with a surprising amount of speed and athleticism. He is a bit lacking as far as lateral movement skills are concerned which limits his usefulness in zone blocking concepts. Dillon is also somewhat lacking as a pass protector and there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that he’s much of a receiving threat. As such, it’s hard to envision Dillon being the focal point of a running game in the modern NFL. He can definitely help a team in a rotation however, particularly if the play calls are tailored to his strengths while he’s on the field. For the Packers he would fit nicely into the role that Jamaal Williams has occupied for the last few years. I would rate Dillon somewhere around a late 5th or early 6th round pick.