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Pre-draft picture: Production at running back reaching new heights for Packers

Dynamic duo will continue to grow as offensive leaders

RBs Aaron Jones & AJ Dillon
RBs Aaron Jones & AJ Dillon

"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. The series continues with the running backs.

GREEN BAY – Throughout the Matt LaFleur era, depth in the offensive backfield has never been a concern.

In 2019, LaFleur inherited the 1-2 punch of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. In 2020, the Packers added AJ Dillon in the second round of the draft as a third option.

Last year, after Williams departed, Jones and Dillon were the featured backs, while Kylin Hill was selected in the seventh round and undrafted Patrick Taylor returned from injury to get his first NFL action as well.

That quartet remains in the Packers' backfield for 2022, and its combination of proven production and untapped potential make it unlikely Green Bay would target another running back high in the upcoming draft.

A late-round addition is certainly on the table to help on special teams and provide added depth against injury, but this position is one that ranks fairly low among roster needs.

Last season, despite their contrast in running styles, Jones and Dillon were almost interchangeable statistically in what became a historic season of sorts.

The 5-10, 208-pound Jones ran 171 times for 799 yards and four touchdowns while becoming the team's second-leading receiver, with 52 catches for 391 yards and six scores.

The 52 receptions were the most by a Packers running back since Ahman Green had 57 in 2002, and his six receiving TDs were the most in 90 years, dating back to Pro Football Hall of Famer Johnny Blood in 1931. Jones added nine catches for 129 yards in the lone postseason game.

In the meantime, the 6-foot, 247-pound Dillon ended up leading the Packers in rushing yards when Jones sat out the regular-season finale at Detroit to rest a bum knee prior to the playoffs.

Dillon finished the year with 187 carries for 803 yards and five TDs, adding 34 catches for 313 yards and two scores in the passing game. Dillon also posted his first playoff rushing TD in the divisional-round loss to the 49ers before a rib injury sustained on special teams sidelined him.

Take a look at the top running backs heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.

Both backs' all-around games – rushing, receiving, pass protection – are perfectly suited for LaFleur's offense, and they became just the second backfield tandem in team history to each surpass 1,100 yards from scrimmage in the same season, joining John Brockington and MacArthur Lane from 1972.

Their experience and productivity likely will be relied on even more this year as quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the passing game adjust to a new reality that doesn't include Davante Adams or Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Behind Jones and Dillon, Hill and Taylor aren't the proven commodities the veterans are, but the Packers are eager to see them develop. The biggest questions revolve around health.

The 5-10, 214-pound Hill, drafted in the seventh round out of Mississippi State, seized the No. 3 role and kickoff-return job with an impressive rookie training camp. But in Week 8 at Arizona, an ill-fated decision to return a kickoff from deep in his own end zone led to a wicked hit and a season-ending knee injury.

It's uncertain how soon Hill, who had 10 carries for 24 yards in his reserve role, will be back to full strength. But the Packers envision him as a contributor on offense and special teams – where he posted a 41-yard kickoff return in 10 attempts – when healthy again.

The 6-2, 217-pound Taylor stepped off the practice squad and into the void when Hill went down, but his road to the active roster was much more arduous than a simple transaction.

Signing as an undrafted free agent in 2020 from Memphis, Taylor sat out his entire rookie year recovering from a foot injury that derailed his final college season but wasn't surgically repaired until just before the draft that year.

Finally cleared medically after an extended rehab, he landed a spot on the practice squad coming out of preseason last summer. Then, with Hill unavailable, he handled some spot duty and wound up getting a decent amount of action in the final two regular-season games.

Taylor rushed six times for 18 yards in Week 17 vs. Minnesota and then had 11 carries for 53 yards and his first NFL TD in Week 18 at Detroit. His final tallies were 23 carries for 89 yards.

If Taylor's injury issues are behind him and Hill is well on the road to recovery, the Packers' depth behind Jones and Dillon is of minimal concern. That said, even if the position won't generate much discussion or attention until Day 3 of the draft, late-round and/or undrafted prospects will be on the team's radar.

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