This is the second in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft. The series continues with the running backs.
GREEN BAY – The Packers like what they have at running back, but there’s a good chance new Head Coach Matt LaFleur wants more.
LaFleur has stated his intention to run the ball, with so much in his offensive system building off a strong ground game. In addition, past offenses LaFleur has been involved with in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Tennessee also utilize running backs as pass catchers out of the backfield more than Green Bay has in recent years.
Incumbents Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams certainly can handle a lot of that duty, but another young, developing back would provide both depth and options for LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Jones still needs to prove his body can withstand the rigors of a 16-game schedule, but his 5.5 yards per carry and 12 rushing touchdowns over his first two pro seasons might be just the beginning for the former fifth-round pick out of Texas-El Paso. Already as last season ended, Jones was talking about improving his game as a receiver, too.
Meanwhile Williams, though less flashy and explosive than Jones, has contributed his share of production as well. Through two seasons, Williams has 1,492 yards from scrimmage (1,020 rushing, 472 receiving) to Jones’ 1,404 yards (1,176-228) and has proven durable since coming to the Packers as a fourth-rounder out of BYU.
When offseason workouts started last week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers mentioned that both Jones and Williams returned to Green Bay in great shape, and that he’s excited about the duo.
Who would be next in line isn’t clear, though, and that’s where the draft may come in.
Kapri Bibbs, Tra Carson and Malcolm Johnson, who all came to the Packers mid-to-late-season last year, have minimal experience in Green Bay. Only Bibbs has touched the ball in a game for the Packers, appearing in Week 17 last year.
How well they might fit LaFleur’s offense remains to be seen, and it’s reasonable to assume there are backs in the draft with certain skill sets the new head coach is looking for, or ones who could complement what Jones and Williams already do.
One wild card in the backfield is the fullback position, where the Packers currently have Danny Vitale and Lavon Coleman.
Vitale arrived midseason off waivers and was on the active roster the final month of the year, playing a hybrid fullback/H-back role. He also caught a lot of passes in college at Northwestern. Coleman is a similar hybrid player who was another late arrival in 2018.
LaFleur hasn’t indicated if his offense will demand a fullback in that mold, or if those duties would be handled by tight ends.
Anyone brought in would need to be a reliable pass protector for Rodgers to see the field. That’s the trait that got Williams in games so early as a rookie, and an area Jones has improved on considerably already. It can be the most difficult element to becoming an every-down back for college prospects as they transition to the pros.
This particular draft seems to be loaded more than usual with smaller, speedier running backs that college spread offenses frequently produce. There are also a number of productive power backs who shared carries in college and are entering the NFL with minimal mileage on them. Both types can probably be had in the middle to late rounds as a potential value pick.
If there’s one available at the right spot in the draft who fits LaFleur’s outside zone scheme and can catch out of the backfield as well as pass block, he may be headed to Green Bay.