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Pre-draft picture: Josh Jacobs takes the reins in Packers' backfield

AJ Dillon and Emanuel Wilson bring familiarity to Green Bay’s run game

RB Josh Jacobs
RB Josh Jacobs

"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2024 NFL Draft. The series continues with the running backs.

GREEN BAY – There's a new lead running back in Green Bay after the addition of Josh Jacobs and the departure of Aaron Jones this offseason.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Jacobs joined the Packers in March following a decorated run with the Las Vegas Raiders in which he totaled nearly 7,000 yards with 46 rushing touchdowns over the past five seasons.

The 5-foot-10, 223-pound running back enjoyed his best NFL season in 2022 when he was named first-team All-Pro after leading league with 1,653 rushing yards on 340 attempts (4.9 yards per carry) with 12 touchdowns.

A difficult 2023 season ensued for both Jacobs and the Raiders, who fired head coach Josh McDaniels following a disappointing 3-5 start. Jacobs notched both of his 100-yard rushing games following the switch to interim head coach Antonio Pierce but missed the final month of the regular season due to a quad injury.

Healthy once again and still only 26 years old, Jacobs is the first unrestricted free-agent running back Green Bay has signed since Raymont Harris in 1998. Contributing to Jacobs' decision was the presence of another former Raiders interim head coach, current Packers special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, with whom Jacobs has a close relationship.

Green Bay didn't venture into the offseason looking to replace Jones, a former Pro Bowler who had five straight 100-yard rushing performances to end the 2023 season, but the Packers began to survey the free-agent landscape when a contract restructure with Jones appeared unlikely.

Despite Jacobs having a few setbacks last year, Green Bay believes the former first-round pick still has his best years ahead of him, with a move to Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense helping further a resurgence.

While Jacobs is known as a bell-cow running back, LaFleur told reporters at last month's NFL Annual Meeting that his new offensive weapon also will have the opportunity to showcase his pass-catching ability in this offense.

He won't be asked to do it alone, either, after Green Bay re-signed veteran AJ Dillon last month. The 6-foot, 247-pound running back has been a staple of the Packers' offense for four seasons, amassing 2,428 rushing yards with 16 TDs on 597 carries (4.1 yards per carry).

Dillon returned on a qualifying contract after a 2023 campaign in which he missed his first four NFL games due to injury, first for a broken thumb and then a neck issue. LaFleur called Dillon's return "critical" for Green Bay's offense, lauding the fifth-year running back for doing his best work in pass protection a season ago.

Joining Jacobs and Dillon is second-year running back Emanuel Wilson, who signed his exclusive-rights tender on Monday. One of the best stories of training camp last summer, the former Fort Valley State running back led the NFL with 223 rushing yards in the preseason.

The performance earned Wilson a place on Green Bay's initial 53-man roster, helping extend the Packers' streak to 19 consecutive years with at least one undrafted rookie on the Week 1 roster. The 5-foot-11, 226-pound running back gained 108 total yards on 19 regular-season touches, including a 31-yard run in a 20-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8.

A shoulder injury landed Wilson on injured reserve for the final seven weeks of the regular season, but he returned in time for Green Bay's playoff run. He carried the ball 12 times for 36 yards on 20 offensive snaps.

Filling out the backfield is 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back Ellis Merriweather, who spent the final two months of the season on Green Bay's practice squad.

With the departure of both Jones and fourth-year veteran Patrick Taylor, the Packers could once again be in market for a running back in this year's draft. Green Bay has selected one in four of the last five drafts, including Dillon in the second round in 2020.

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