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Packers 2021 Roster Preview: AJ Dillon takes over RB2 mantle behind Aaron Jones

The bigger question for the Packers is who will be their third running back behind their Thunder and Lightning combo?

Green Bay Packers Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers report for training camp on July 27th, with the team’s first practice coming the next day. In the week leading up to camp, Acme Packing Company will break down the Packers’ 90-man roster and give our predictions for who will make the initial 53 at the end of camp. Seven APC contributors submitted their 53-man predictions, and we have combined those picks into our annual consolidated prediction.

Our analysis of the Packers’ 90-man roster carries on with a look at the running back position, where the team saw a significant contributor, Jamaal Williams, depart for Detroit in free agency.

RBs on the 90-man roster

Aaron Jones

NFL Experience: 5th season
2020 Stats (14 games): 201 carries, 1104 yards (5.5 yards/carry), 9 TDs; 47 receptions on 63 targets, 355 yards (7.6 yards/reception), 2 TDs
2021 Cap Hit: $4.465 million

The focal point of the Packers’ running game for the last two years, Jones just averaged 5.5 yards per carry for the third season in his four-year career. He finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game and fifth in yards per carry in 2020 and is staking a strong claim as one of the NFL’s premier running backs.

A few days before he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, Jones surprisingly re-signed with the Packers on a new four-year deal. The contract shifts a massive amount of money into years three and four of the deal, keeping his cap hits relatively low in 2021 and 2022 while the Packers face the COVID-19 cap crunch.

AJ Dillon

NFL Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats (: 46 carries, 242 yards (5.3 YPC), 2 TDs; 2 receptions on 2 targets, 21 yards (10.5 YPR)
2021 Cap Hit: $1.201 million

As the Packers’ second-round draft pick in 2020, Dillon was met with skepticism by fans and analysts alike. But rather than being targeted as a replacement for Jones and Williams, he now gets the opportunity to be Jones’ sidekick and a dangerous change-of-pace weapon.

“Quadzilla” proved he was much more than just a thick pair of legs late in the season, as he ran roughshod over the Tennessee Titans in snowy Lambeau Field. Dillon took advantage of a golden opportunity en route to his 124-yard day, as Jones went down early with an injury while Williams was inactive. He’s a power back, to be sure, but shows surprisingly nimble feet for his size. Now the question is whether his pass-blocking and receiving chops have continued to improve over the offseason.

Kylin Hill

NFL Experience: Rookie (7th-round draft pick)
2020 Stats (3 games at Mississippi State): 15 carries, 58 yards (3.9 YPC); 23 receptions, 237 yards (1.03 YPR), 1 TD
2021 Cap Hit: $680k

Green Bay drafted Hill as their final pick in 2021, but they may have a steal on their hands. In a more conventional running game for his first three years, Hill was a workhorse, carrying the ball 242 times for 1350 yards and ten touchdowns as a junior. However, the arrival of the Air Raid scheme under new head coach Mike Leach took away most of his running opportunities. He showed impressive receiving ability in three games before opting out to focus on preparing for the NFL.

Patrick Taylor, Jr.

NFL Experience: 1st season (2020 UDFA)
2020 Stats: None
2021 Cap Hit: $662k

Taylor missed all of his rookie season in the NFL on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he worked to come back from an injury he suffered as a senior at the University of Memphis. There, he had starred through three seasons, averaging over 5.5 yards per carry and finding the end zone an impressive 39 times in 44 games. He now has a year of experience with the Packers’ playbook and an NFL strength program to make his bid for a roster spot in August.

Dexter Williams

NFL Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats (3 games): 2 carries, 8 yards (4.0 YPC)
2021 Cap Hit: $850,000

A 6th-round pick in 2019, Williams seemed to possess similar physical tools to Jones — great agility and acceleration in particular. However, Williams has seemingly struggled with the mental transition to the NFL, as he has been passed over for opportunities multiple times in his brief career. In 2020, he missed out on the final roster but returned on the practice squad, where he earned a handful of gameday promotions under the league’s COVID-19 roster protocols. Now Williams will fight once again for a chance at a roster spot in training camp.

APC 53-man roster prediction

Starter: Aaron Jones

Backups: AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill

The biggest question is how many running backs the Packers will keep on the roster — three or four? Jones and Dillon are locks, and with several contributors keeping three QBs and the NFL continuing its expanded practice squad rules, we’re largely betting that Green Bay saves a roster spot here and rolls with just three.

At that point, who earns that third spot? Hill and Taylor both received votes, but Hill gets the nod because of both his status as a draft pick and his seemingly more versatile skill set, which should also allow him to contribute on special teams when not called upon as a part of the offense. If the Packers could get Taylor onto the practice squad, that would be a welcome move as the team could call him up for a few games if necessary or have him in the wings in case of injury.

Stay tuned on Tuesday as we break down the wide receiver and tight end position groups!