When the Green Bay Packers selected Jamaal Williams in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, they did so believing he or fellow selection Aaron Jones could emerge as a bellcow in the backfield. Over two seasons, Williams has rushed for over 1,000 yards and added value as a third-down back as one of the team’s best pass-blocking running backs. And in Jones’ absence, Williams has had a few shining moments, like his performance against the New York Jets during the final stretch of last season.
Still, while Williams has been more than serviceable during his first two seasons in the league, a couple of new additions to the roster could threaten his role and spot on the 53-man roster in 2019.
With Williams still out nursing a hamstring injury on Tuesday, newly acquired Darrin Hall and Corey Grant received his usual reps. Rookie sixth-round pick Dexter Williams also has earned a few first-team reps with Jamaal out and impressed with his cutting ability. With Green Bay expected to keep three tailbacks on the roster, not including a fullback in the mold of Danny Vitale, there are few spots up for grabs. With Jones showcasing high-end potential in spurts and Dexter Williams a new draft pick, Jamaal Williams may be in a battle with Grant specifically for a final position.
Grant, an experienced veteran in Nathaniel Hackett’s Jacksonville offense, has good hands out of the backfield and could fill the third-down back previously occupied by Williams if his pass blocking checks out. While Grant only rushed 81 times over his first four seasons with the Jaguars, he did have a 122-yard outburst in his first career start in 2016. Grant was also a special teams factor on the kick return unit, with a 40-yard dash time clocked as low as 4.24 seconds coming out of college. If Grant does not challenge Jamaal Williams for a final roster spot, then another bubble player like Trevor Davis should be peeking over his shoulder with Grant’s versatility to help in a variety of ways.
But Grant should have a chance to help in the backfield. After he was signed, Head Coach Matt LaFleur mentioned that Grant was “definitely somebody Gutey [General Manager Brian Gutekunst] had his eye on and then we used Hackett to help recruit him here, because he had some other teams interested in him.” That vote of confidence does not sound like praise given to an ordinary “camp body” signed during the summer.
For Williams, who has done nothing to lose his job per se, Grant’s presence on the team should light a competitive fire. But Williams does not provide the same level of special teams value that Grant might, nor does he possess the game-changing speed. In a new offense, Williams’ experience in Green Bay might not give him the same edge it may have in other seasons and he has a new head coach to win over in an offense predicated on the running game.
So while Williams has far from lost his job thus far in training camp, his injury and competition brings a little less certainty about his roster spot than once thought. The battle at running back should be one to keep an eye on during the preseason.