GREEN BAY – Potential became production in 2021, as AJ Dillon took the Year 2 step everyone associated with the Packers hoped the former second-round pick would.
Jamaal Williams' departure in free agency pushed Dillon into a more prominent role in Green Bay's offense this past season and the 6-foot, 247-pound running back was up to the challenge.
Out of the backfield, Dillon racked up a team-high 803 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 187 carries (4.3 yards per attempt), but it was Dillon's success as a pass-catcher that proved just how far he's come as an every-down back.
His 34 catches for 313 yards and two TDs in 17 regular-season games trumped the 21 receptions for 236 yards and two TDs Dillon had in 35 games over three seasons at Boston College.
When asked in which area Dillon grew the most in his second NFL season, veteran running back Aaron Jones first mentioned his teammate's improvements as a pass protector before bringing it back to the receiving game.
"Catching the ball out of the backfield, you want to be diverse and versatile, especially someone his size and stature," Jones said. "When (Dillon) gets in the game they might load the box, they might say, 'Oh, they're going to run the ball.' But no, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, too."
Admittedly, looking back on an encouraging second NFL season was difficult for Dillon to do in the aftermath of Green Bay's 13-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoffs two weeks ago.
Beyond the disappointing result, Dillon also sustained a fractured rib as a blocker on kickoff returns in the third quarter and was sidelined for the remainder of the game.
Dillon enjoyed the one-two punch he formed with Jones, though. The two became the first pair of Packers running backs to each have at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage in the same season since John Brockington and MacArthur Lane in 1972.
Dillon was in peak form during Green Bay's 17-0 shutout victory over Seattle in Week 10, posting a season-best 128 total yards with two fourth-quarter touchdown runs to put the Seahawks away.
"It was a great regular season, it was, and I do think I can take a moment to be proud of the growth and things like that I did do," Dillon said. "But I'm always looking at how to get better. If anything, it's a nod to the fact that the work that I put in, in the offseason, can benefit me throughout the season and can prepare me."
Amidst all the questions the Packers are facing regarding the construct of the 2022 roster, Jones and Dillon remain two constants on the offensive side of the ball for Green Bay.
That representation means something to Dillon, who has formed strong ties to the area. Since arriving two years ago, Dillon has developed an appreciation for the Door County peninsula and purchased a home in Green Bay with his fiancé. On more than one occasion, Dillon has said he plans to be a "Green Bay lifer."
After entering the playoffs as the top seed in the NFC, the Packers' abrupt exit was a difficult pill for Dillon to swallow. He likened it to feeling like "you got slapped in your face at home."
It's a matter of pride now to Dillon, and the only way to rinse the bitter aftertaste from his mouth is to bounce back in 2022. As impressive as Dillon's sophomore campaign was, the 23-year-old running back is already thinking about Year 3.
"Personally, I've never been more motivated in my life now to go and win a Super Bowl," Dillon said. "I don't know when it's going to happen, where it's going to happen, what it's going to look like or how we're going to get there, but as long as I'm here with the Green Bay Packers, that's going to be my No. 1 motivator going forward."