GREEN BAY – The Packers had been paying attention to Boston College running back A.J. Dillon for a while before they drafted him Friday night.
Three years ago, Green Bay's Northeast region scout Mike Owen was back at his alma mater, Syracuse, reconnecting with his old tight ends coach from his playing days, Brian White.
White was in town as the running backs coach for Boston College, and he had a big, fast freshman back worth checking out in a late November game at the Carrier Dome.
That freshman with the size-speed combo was Dillon, who dominated in Boston College's blowout victory to the tune of 23 carries for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
"He tore it up for about 200 yards, and I said, 'Who is this kid?'" Owen said moments after the Packers drafted Dillon in the second round, with the 62nd overall pick.
"I've been tracking him since his freshman year. I've had my eye on him since then."
Dillon apparently was just getting started. His big game at Syracuse came about a month after a school-record 39 carries for 272 yards and four touchdowns at Louisville, where he and Heisman Trophy winner (and reigning NFL MVP) Lamar Jackson were the stars in a 45-42 shootout in favor of Boston College.
Dillon followed up a 1,589-yard, 14-touchdown freshman year with 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns (in just 10 games) as a sophomore.
Then last year, he piled up 318 carries for 1,685 yards and 14 more TDs, capping an impressive three-year run with another round of All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and declaring for the NFL Draft a year early.
With 845 carries in three years, to go with 4,382 yards and 38 touchdowns, Dillon's 6-foot, 247-pound frame has handled plenty of work. But Owen has no concerns he's gotten worn down at a position with a notoriously short shelf life at the pro level.
"He's been steady and consistent," Owen said. "I don't see any breakdown in his body. His structure, he's built to last."
Dillon confirmed that assessment.
"I echo this to everyone across Packers Nation – I'm good to go, as healthy as can be," Dillon said. "I've had a lot of carries but it goes to show I can handle the workload. I can be the workhorse. Everybody can know the ball is coming to me and I'll still crank out the yards."
Dillon's size and power is complemented by speed, a 4.53 clocking in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. He also showed off a 41-inch vertical jump – that's a lot of air underneath nearly 250 pounds.
"You don't hear those numbers come around too often," Owen said. "It's God-gifted ability he's blessed with. A lot of people in America wish they had those kind of traits."
He also showed a lot of route-running and pass-catching ability at the combine he wasn't required to do in college. He had just 21 receptions for 236 yards and two TDs over the last two seasons.
Drafting a running back makes sense for the Packers with their top two at the position, 2017 draft picks Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, both entering the final seasons of their rookie contracts.
Take a look at Packers RB AJ Dillon during his college career.
With Jones' 20-plus touchdown season in 2019, he'll be pricey to re-sign, and it's hard to envision the Packers keeping the dynamic duo together, particularly if Williams wants to seek a top-dog role somewhere.
But Owen stressed Dillon isn't just a draft pick for the future. His body type and running style differ from both Jones' and Williams', and his size could pay dividends in the cold or other bad-weather games.
"He's going to be a great fit in that room," Owen said. I think he'll be a great complement to Aaron Jones and Jamaal. He can take this running game to the next level."
A native of Connecticut who played his high school and college football in Massachusetts, Dillon said Wisconsin is "kind of like home in a way" weather-wise. He also considers Head Coach Matt LaFleur's outside-zone running scheme in his "wheelhouse."
He's been compared, physically speaking, to current NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry, whom LaFleur coached as offensive coordinator in Tennessee two years ago. If he even gets within shouting distance of Henry's production in the NFL, he'll have made the Packers' investment in him worthwhile.
"I like to help my team win," Dillon said. "Whether that's running around people, through people, over people, I'm ready to get it done. I just can't wait."