There was a time, early in his career, when Packers running back A.J. Dillon appeared destined to, at the very least, settle into a platoon situation with fellow back Aaron Jones. At the most, it seemed, Dillon had the potential to surpass Jones and eventually take over as Green Bay’s primary rusher.
But in only two weeks, the last hopes of that being the case seem to have gone by the wayside. For one thing, Jones’ Week 1 explosiveness against the Bears cemented his status, all over again, as the Packers’ leading man in the backfield. For another thing, Dillon looked plodding and unexceptional when given lead-back duties in Week 2, as Jones sat out with a hamstring problem.
Dillon had 55 yards on 15 carries against Atlanta, running his season total to 74 yards on 28 carries, and average of just 2.6 yards per rush. That’s not going to cut it.
While praising the offense in general, Packers analyst Jason Hirschhorn of The Leap newsletter wrote: “Still, one key contributor has not held up his end of the bargain: backup running back AJ Dillon. The 2020 second-round pick once looked like a true complement to Jones and a potential heir. But those days have long passed. Dillon has moved like a plodder for over a year now, hitting running lanes late and rarely breaking off big gains. The lack of explosiveness would raise eyebrows in any context.”
‘Gone Are the Days of This 1A, 1A Stuff’
It’s a similar criticism to what we heard from The Athletic Packers reporter Matt Schneidman last week, even before Dillon’s uninspiring showing against the Falcons. Schneidman foresaw Dillon’s troubles and talked about them on his radio show with Doug Russell last Monday.
Most significant: Schneidman pointed out that the Packers were leaving behind the idea that Dillon and Jones were a tandem No. 1 back.
“The coaching staff has the unenviable task of trying to figure out how much work to give Aaron Jones while also figuring out how to preserve him for a season,” Schneidman said. “You want him to perform now because we all know what he’s capable of … A.J. Dillon doesn’t have that (explosiveness). He can move the chains. His yards after contact per rush need to get better—they weren’t good last season.
“But I would still give him more chances. He could be a solid No. 2 but gone are the days of this 1A, 1A stuff. It’s a very clear No. 1 and No. 2 in Green Bay.”
Should the Packers Give up on A.J. Dillon?
How many more chances for Dillon? That’s a difficult question. He is only 25 years old and is a popular figure in and round Green Bay. But if he can’t be explosive enough to go for big runs when he gets the ball, he will have to use his famed leg strength—he is Quadzilla, after all—to bowl over defenders and grind out yardage that way.
Except that’s not happening. Schneidman mentioned Dillon’s poor yards-after-contact numbers from last season, during which Dillon earned 1.7 additional yards after taking his first hit. That’s only gotten worse thus far this season—Dillon is down to 0.9 yards after contact in 2023. Jones, by way of comparison, is at 2.8 yard after initial contact this season.
It is early, of course, and Dillon did not get many favors from the offensive line on Sunday, with veteran left tackle David Bakhtiari sitting out and left guard Elgton Jenkins suffering an injury.
“It’s never just one thing,” coach Matt LaFleur said, per Hirschhorn. “It just depends on the play, how the play was blocked, if it was a good call versus whatever the look may be. There’s enough blame, if you will, to all of us collectively.”
But Dillon has been shaky, at best, for a second straight year. And that’s a potential problem.