The Green Bay Packers‘ offensive backfield could look a heck of a lot different a couple of months from now than it ever has over the last six years.
Beyond the obvious questions surrounding who Aaron Rodgers will play for next season, should he play in the NFL at all, the Packers are expected to take a hard look at the running back room this offseason. Specifically, Green Bay must decide if it is willing to pay a steep price to keep Aaron Jones in green and gold.
If the Packers retain Jones, they will field the most expensive back in the NFL in 2023 at a salary cap number north of $20 million. A decision to cut Jones will save the team almost $10.5 million and take a majority bite out of the nearly $16.5 million Green Bay must cut from its budget to get under the cap.
Regardless of the ultimate decision on Jones, it is reasonable to expect the franchise will look to add a running back somewhere in the middle rounds of the coming NFL Draft. Paul Bretl of USA Today’s Packers Wire on Tuesday, February 14, authored a list of 11 players to watch in that regard.
Bretl’s list included five running backs who number among the top 10 at the position in this year’s draft class, per Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN. Those players are as follows:
- Israel Abanikanda of Pittsburgh (No. 5)
- Zach Charbonnet of UCLA (No. 6)
- Tyjae Spears of Tulane (No. 7)
- Kendre Miller of TCU (No. 8)
- Chase Brown of Illinois (No. 9)
“Given the uncertainty around the running back position beyond 2023, coupled with the need for more dynamic depth and the fact that this is a very good draft class, adding a running back in this year’s draft feels like a near certainty for the Packers,” Bretl wrote.
Running Backs on Packers’ Draft Radar Share Traits With Aaron Jones
Who the Packers land on will depend on how highly they value Jones’ eventual replacement at a position that grows more and more devalued by the year. A likely range for the team to select a running back will be between the fourth and fifth rounds, where Green Bay will select No. 113 and No. 146 overall, respectively.
In his most recent mock draft, Kiper had just one running back going in the first round, projecting Bijan Robinson of Texas to stay in the state and join the Dallas Cowboys at No. 26.
The five running backs noted above who intersect both Kiper’s top 10 and Bretl’s list of players to watch aren’t interchangeable, though distinct patterns emerge when looking into each name. They are all around the same height and weight. They also are all dual-threats who can rush and catch the football out of the backfield, and can thereby operate as three-down backs. None of them failed to rush for fewer than 1,359 yards last season or log fewer than 12 receptions.
As far as a draft shopping list goes, each of the five players appear a suitable option for a team looking to replace a player like Jones on its roster. Jones posted 1,121 rushing yards, 395 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns last season, per Pro Football Reference.
A.J. Dillon Ready to Step Into Starting Role For Packers
If the Packers decide to go with a running back somewhere in the coming draft, that player will likely be the backup to A.J. Dillon.
Entering his fourth season in 2023, Dillon has backed up Jones for his entire career, though he has shown the ability to take over RB1 duties when necessary. Dillon has registered 1,573 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 373 carries over the last two years, as well as 62 catches for 519 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
For the money, Dillon is a better choice for Green Bay at a salary cap hit of just shy of $1.7 million next season. A running back selected in the fourth or fifth round would probably command a four-year contract at a price of roughly $1 million annually, meaning the Packers could roll out Dillon and that player together for less than $3 million in 2023, while Jones would cost them nearly seven times as much on his own.