By any measure, Packers running back Aaron Jones is on top of his game. He tallied 1,121 yards on the ground in 2022, his career high, and good for 10th in NFL. He played in all 17 games, caught 59 passes and had 395 yards as a receiver. His speed is still there, and at 5.3 yards per attempt (fourth in the league), his ability to grind out yards is there, too.
But the number that seems to hang over all running backs in today’s NFL is this one: 28. That’s Jones’ age, and increasingly, teams begin to pull back from running backs once they hit 28, which is when their speed and explosiveness tends to take a slight hit.
For that reason, ESPN insider Dan Graziano is predicting (in his list of surprise predictions for the year) that the Packers will, in 2023, begin moving away from Jones as the undisputed top running back and toward A.J. Dillon, who is still 25.
“At some point this season,” Graziano wrote, “it wouldn’t be surprising if Dillon is starting to get a bigger share of the workload than Jones.”
A.J. Dillon Struggled in Year 3
The prediction might be a little less surprising had Dillon built on his excellent sophomore season for the Packers last year, his third in the NFL. Dillon had 803 rushing yards and 313 receiving yards in year two for the Packers, who hoped he would become an even bigger weapon in year three, especially in the passing game.
Instead, he regressed, going from 34 catches to 28 and putting up just 206 receiving yards. He ran for 770 yards, despite getting essentially the same number of carries (186), and is under a bit of pressure to turn things around this year.
Here’s what Graziano wrote: “The Packers love Jones, and they love using Jones and Dillon in tandem. And Dillon did disappoint a bit last season, when the Packers were imagining a bigger passing-game role for him that never came to fruition. But Jones is 28, which is an age at which the numbers tell us running backs start to decline, and he played through some ailments last year. Dillon is 25 and fits better long term with the young offensive core Green Bay is building around quarterback Jordan Love.”
Graziano also pointed out that the Packers owe Jones (who reworked his deal to give the team flexibility) one more year on his contract, at $17.2 million, a cap charge he labeled “untenable.”
Packers’ Interest in Jonathan Taylor Was Odd
Questions about whether Jones will hold up past age 28 are obviously ones the Packers themselves have been thinking about. The team has confirmed that there was contact with the Colts about star running back Jonathan Taylor, who is 24 years old and is widely considered to be the best back in the league when healthy.
The Packers would not be sniffing around Taylor if there was not some concern that Jones has a limited future in Green Bay. So maybe the Packers not only think Dillon can overtake him this year, but actually hope he will.
Dillon certainly hopes to bounce back.
“I’d play here until I can’t run anymore,” he said this summer, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “I’ll pick up long snapper or whatever it is when I start slowing down. But there’s only so much I can control. My biggest thing is having the mindset that I’m going to come in here and keep doing my thing. And when it’s time to go play ball, I’m going to go out there and play free and have fun — how I used to back in college, high school.
“And however that happens — whether it’s 1,000 yards, 2,000 yards, 100 yards — so be it. I’m going to have fun and enjoy all the time I have here.”