Running back position starkly changed shape


This is the second in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. The series continues with the running backs.

GREEN BAY – Last year at this time, the Packers were looking to beef up their running back room.

They did exactly that, drafting three running backs over the final four rounds – BYU’s Jamaal Williams, Texas El-Paso’s Aaron Jones and Utah State’s Devante Mays – to join the returning Ty Montgomery and fullback Aaron Ripkowski on the youngest position group on the team.

Take a look at photos of Packers RB Aaron Jones from the 2017 season. Photos by Evan Siegle and Corey Wilson, packers.com

Turns out the Packers immediately needed the rebuilt depth, as Montgomery was lost to rib and wrist injuries at midseason and Jones missed a total of three games with a knee injury.

That means running backs are still on the table in this draft, even though the Packers like the young corps they’ve assembled and believe the arrow on each player is pointing up.

With the pounding running backs take, a shortage can happen in a hurry. Green Bay’s 2016 season was a prime example, prompting Montgomery’s transition from receiver.

So while the position is not the acute need it was a year ago, adding another pick from a reportedly deep draft at the position wouldn’t be a huge surprise.

Either way, the competition amongst the running backs for status and playing time should be intense throughout 2018.

Montgomery, Williams and Jones have all shown they can produce in the lead role when called upon. Montgomery broke out toward the end of the 2016, while Jones (twice) and Williams (once) each turned in 100-yard rushing performances in different games last year.

Take a look at photos of Packers RB Jamaal Williams from the 2017 season. Photos by Evan Siegle and Corey Wilson, packers.com

All three are working to round out their resumes, though.

Montgomery is <span style="text-decoration: underline;">the most complete player of the top three</span> but has struggled to stay healthy. Mike McCarthy continues to tout his offensive value as a player who can line up anywhere and make the defense adjust its matchups, but two of his three NFL seasons have been wrecked by injuries.

Williams was the most polished of the rookies in pass protection last season, so he started the year as the No. 2, but he’s looking for more big plays. Only one of his 153 carries last season gained more than 14 yards, though he did have three pass receptions of 25-plus.

Jones is the most sudden and explosive of the group, and if he can prove himself more as a pass catcher and pass protector out of the backfield, he could demand the every-down role.

And yet the most powerful runner of them all might be the 230-pound Mays, who struggled in fumbling two of the first three times he was handed the ball as a rookie. If Mays can settle down in Year 2 and find a comfort zone, he’ll push for action.

The extensive depth a year ago relegated Ripkowski to a more traditional fullback role, as he didn’t touch the ball nearly as often (five rushes, seven receptions) as he did in 2016 (34 rushes, nine receptions). But the bearded fan favorite is still there as the ultimate fallback.

The depth of this draft class at running back could lead to a value pick falling into the late rounds who would add even more young competition to Green Bay’s group.

If that happens, it might be difficult to find enough reps to go around, provided everyone stays healthy. Green Bay’s recent history would make that a welcome problem to have.

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