We’re only just now entering Week 3 of the NFL season, so it is still too early for the Packers to worry much about their backup running back situation. But with Aaron Jones questionable again on the injury report with a hamstring injury, the Packers could rely on A.J. Dillon as the starter for the second straight week. And Dillon has been a different kind of questionable this season—he has been healthy, but his performance has been lacking.
Dillon has struggled. After gaining just 19 yards in the season opener, Dillon got the start in place of Jones in Week 2, and had 55 yards on 15 carries against Atlanta. That ran his season total to 74 yards on 28 carries, and a subpar average of just 2.6 yards per rush.
Maybe Dillon can turn things around. But given the fact that he struggled last year, when he totaled 770 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt, that’s looking less and less likely.
With that in mind, and knowing that the Packers are walking a tightrope of trying to get to the playoffs this year while adding young players for the future, the guys at the very good Packers newsletter, “The Leap,” suggest a handful of players Green Bay could pursue to replace Dillon.
One name stands out: Little-used Bengals rookie Chase Brown, a college star at Illinois who checks all the boxes (talent, youth, potential availability) the Packers could be after in a new running back: “A young back like the Cincinnati Bengals’ Chase Brown could intrigue Green Bay.”
Chase Brown, ‘Medium-Range Option’
In laying out whom the Packers could pursue, writer Jason Hirschhorn suggests three different tiers: buy-low targets, medium-range options with cap-friendly contract, and go-big-or-go-home targets.
Former Rams running back Cam Akers is on the buy-low list, and he was just dealt to Minnesota, so eliminate him. Then there’s Elijah Mitchell of the 49ers, who did not play a snap in Week 2 behind Christian McCaffrey. But San Francisco made clear they value Mitchell on Thursday in the 49ers’ win over the Giants, when he had 14 touches in the game. Cross him out.
There is also the earlier-rumored Packers interest in Jonathan Taylor, which could resurface. That’s been much-discussed, though, and the Colts apparently wanted Christian Watson in return, which Green Bay would not do.
The Giants’ Matt Breida and Salvon Ahmed of the Dolphins are interesting potential buy-low options, but Breida is 28 and Ahmed is pretty well-established in Miami. Brown, though, is especially intriguing. The Bengals don’t seem to have a place for him, and have had him on the field for just one offensive snap in two games.
What’s more, Hirschhorn points out, the Bengals need help on the offensive line, and the Packers have depth there (at least, when David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins are healthy).
“If the Bengals, a team that believes it can win a Super Bowl this season, don’t plan to use Brown much in 2023, perhaps they would consider dealing him for a player who can,” Hirschhorn wrote. “The Packers have depth along the offensive line … that could do more for Cincinnati now than Brown apparently will.”
Can Brown Be More Than a Speed Back?
The Packers have put an emphasis on positional speed, and Brown ranked as the fifth-fastest running back at the NFL Combine this year, running a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. He ran for 1,643 yards as a fifth-year senior at Illinois, which was fourth in the nation.
Among the predraft downsides, according to NFL.com, were that Brown does not run with much shiftiness or power: “Very average power through first contact,” and, “Tends to be a one-speed runner.”
Still, if Brown can be had on the cheap, he could be the kind of running back the Packers could utilize when Jones needs a breather—a simple, one-cut runner with big-time speed. Brown might not have a lot of power-runner in his game, but then, Dillon has not been especially powerful when he’s gotten the ball this season, and he does not have Brown’s speed.
There’s still hope that Dillon can improve. That would be the ideal outcome for the Packers, at lest in the short-term. But if not, taking a chance on a player like Brown could be a worthwhile gamble.