For the Green Bay Packers, the story of the 2020 NFL Draft’s first day was about a trade up for a potential successor to Aaron Rodgers. On day two, the theme was giving head coach Matt LaFleur the personnel to run his preferred style of offense. The first of two picks on Friday came at slot number 62, where the Packers selected Boston College running back AJ Dillon.
While many expected the Packers to add to their passing game, Dillon provides a punishing, physical presence in the backfield that comes combined with deceptive athletic ability. That was the refrain from Packers area scout Mike Owen, who scouted Dillon in his three college seasons.
To begin his conference call with the media, Owen ran through a checklist of the qualities that Dillon brings to the table: “Big back, can run inside, run outside. Deceptive athlete, smooth, strong, powerful runner. Real good speed in the open field.”
The 6-foot, 247-pound Dillon is surprisingly nimble, fast, and explosive for his size. But his build was part of the reason why he was able to take on a huge workload over his college career. Dillon carried the football over 800 times in two years, something that both Owen and Dillon addressed when talking to the media.
“He’s just got a body that’s built to last,” Owen said. “He’s been steady (and) consistent. I don’t see any breakdown of his body. The way his structure is, he’s built to last.”
Dillon agrees, looking at his ability to stay healthy with a heavy workload as a badge of honor. “I’m good to go, healthy as can be,” he said. “I had a lot of carries there but that just goes to show that I can handle the workload and be the workhorse.”
The physical running style that Dillon brings to the table, however, should provide a stark contrast to Aaron Jones’ quicker slashing ability. The goal with a three-headed running back attack — something Matt LaFleur was adamant about having when he spoke at the 2020 Combine in February — should help the team as a season wears on. “For us in Green Bay, the weather only gets colder as you go along the weeks and months,” Owen said,’ “and it’s only going to benefit us to have a guy to wear down defenses.” Dillon loves the idea of playing in cold weather, too, having grown up in Connecticut and Massachusetts. “I’m used to grind it out in the cold weather, the rain, the sleet, the hail. It’s kind of like home in a way.”
One question about Dillon is his abilities in the passing game. As he put it, Boston College’s offense does not use their backs much as receivers, so he sees his perceived lack of receiving ability as the result of a lack of opportunities. Owen agrees, saying that Dillon’s receiving abilities are “further along than you might believe.”
Likewise, pass protection will be a key component in the NFL, and both Owen and Dillon think that he will be effective in those assignments. “He’s a willing kid,” Owen said. “He’s got the size, he’s got the strength. He’s got the ability to pass protect.”
Dillon echoed those sentiments: “As my career progressed I started to play more and more third down. The pass protection game is one of the harder things to learn. I definitely see myself as someone who can protect the quarterback and understand defensive schemes.”
All told, Dillon’s combination of size and speed has drawn some comparisons to the likes of Derrick Henry and Jamal Lewis, two big backs who have excelled in the NFL. He will have a long way to go do warrant being mentioned in the same breath as those players, but there are at least reasons to see similarities in the playing styles. Descriptors like “smooth,” “deceptive athlete,” and “decisive runner” were among Owen’s major compliments for Dillon.
The Packers are also getting a well-spoken player who should be a credit to the locker room as well. As Dillon mentioned, he took the motto of Boston College to heart: “(The) motto is ‘men and women for others’ so it taught me a lot about how it’s bigger than yourself. It’s kind of cliche but it kind of got instilled there.”
Time will tell if Dillon becomes more than just a complementary piece to the Packers’ rushing attack. But his selection, the highest on a running back since the team picked Eddie Lacy 61st in 2013, shows that the team is committed to bolstering its ground game.