There are few constants that we can count on in life: death, taxes, and the inability to talk about politics over Thanksgiving dinner. In Green Bay, we can add the constants of construction season, brats as a staple ingredient to a good tailgate, and the trust of Aaron Rodgers being needed if you’re a running back that wants to get on the field.
For as long as Aaron Rodgers is on the field, the games will be heavily focused on the pass. There’s no denying that, at least for the foreseeable future. Due of the focus on the passing game, the running backs must be able to pass protect. Truly impede the defender, hold them up, not just reroute their path as if they were running around a tackling dummy. If you can keep Rodgers upright, he will reward you with the ball and boxes to run through which are rarely stacked.
After the 2016 season, the Packers shed some weight, letting Eddie Lacy walk and leaving themselves a big gaping hole at running back. To fill this hole, they fully converted Ty Montgomery to running back after having him fill in at the position when Lacy succumbed to injury, and they drafted Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. Where there was a void, Green Bay suddenly had three very capable players. As the 2018 OTAs concluded, Coach Mike McCarthy eluded to this fact, saying, “We’ve got young players that we really like that all played really well, but it’s been in short periods of time. Ty Montgomery had a run where he was outstanding. Jamaal has probably been the most available of the three, and Aaron has been so impactful when he’s been in there. I just think like anything, you project and you set a path.”
Three fully capable players who could fill the role. The question remains, who’s the one in line for the most opportunity? Who’s going to be on the field to benefit from all those unstacked boxes?
“The fact of the matter is we’re going to go running back by committee,” McCarthy also stated in an interview at the end of OTAs. “But if one of them would emerge as that full-time guy then you have to have that ability to … adjust to that. As far as planning and going into the season, that’s why we’re going about it that way. We feel like we’ve got three guys that have all done it, but they haven’t done it over a long period of time, so I think it’s just practical thinking from that position and realizing that it’s a very demanding position.”
The dreaded RBBC. However, the hidden key here is that trust factor of Rodgers. Montgomery opened the 2017 season as the lead back because of his ability to pick up the offensive run scheme and pass protect the best of the three. Before getting hurt and having to miss the rest of the season, he put in 71 rushes for 273 yards, giving him an average of 3.8 yards per attempt. The next in line was Williams, however, he got hurt in his first game as well, giving way to Jones. Williams did subsequently come back and fill in for an injured Jones. The Packer backfield was the epitome of a revolving door in 2017. To their credit, Williams and Jones filled in very well, with Williams having the most attempts and yards of the three with 155 attempts for 556 yards – 3.6 YDS/ATT, and Jones being the most electric with 81 attempts for 448 yards, giving him an average of 5.5 YDS/ATT.
The area that Jones lacked the most was in pass protection. He knew he needed to improve on this aspect of his game to gain Rodgers’ trust and playing time. “I’m bigger all around,” Jones said this offseason. “That’s something that’s going to help me in pass protection and that’s something I want to get better at. I’m stronger, so definitely when a defender who’s bigger than me comes up, I can hold my ground this year. I feel like an athlete wants to get bigger, stronger as long as they can stay explosive. I still feel just as explosive as I was if not even more.”
In OTAs this work was showing dividends. Jones was headed to be the steal of your fantasy drafts, but then his suspension got handed down. Jones is suspended for the first two games of the season for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse, stemming from an arrest in October of 2017, which led to a plea of no contest to a marijuana-related charge in February of 2018. Jones will be available to return to the active roster on September 17, missing games against the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers will lean heavily on Montgomery and Williams in those games.
What the Packers have to work out during training camp is the pecking order. Although McCarthy used RBBC as a way to describe his backfield, what showed most brightly last year was the fact that his definition of RBBC differs slightly than our definition. Where we expect RBBC to be multiple running backs in one game, McCarthy tended to stay with the “lead” back for that game. Feeding the ball to the one guy that started, spelling them sparingly, and sending them back in. Perhaps out of necessity due to injury, especially with the rookies, this method worked well for the Packers producing multiple games with over 100 yards rushing for the running back of the day.
Where this works to the team’s advantage is the brutal nature of the game. “You’ve got to be honest about that position, there’s not too many guys that can play 19 games,” McCarthy said. “To be the workhorse and do it week in and week out for 19 games, you’re a unique player. Your availability is at the top of the line because that’s such a demanding position.”
Going into the 2018 season, don’t forget about the three running backs in Green Bay. If you’re still drafting your dynasty startups or planning for your upcoming redraft leagues, use the dreaded RBBC moniker to your advantage. None of the three are being drafted early because of the uncertainty. Use this knowledge and get your piece of this rotation with huge upside later in the draft. With Jones currently going around pick 99, Williams pick 105, Montgomery not until pick 118, take the slipping Jones in the 9th as your RB4/5 and have an electric home run hitter with fresh legs in the second half of the season. Miss out on Jones, or even Williams in the 10th, feel confident in selecting the forgotten Montgomery in the 11th round. All three can and will produce, given the start.