GB Backfield: Breaking Down The Three-Headed Mystery
Andrew Woodruff / @ff_awwoodruff33
Looking into my next topic, I was asked to explore the Green Bay Packers backfield. Many people have been curious about what to expect with Aaron Jones after last season and whether AJ Dillon is worth anything. Combine that with Jamaal Williams’s role being a mystery as well has created a lot of uncertainty. This made it intriguing to see what might be expected for the team in the short and long term for fantasy. To do it properly, I will look at breaking it down with the coach, the 2019 offense, and the skills of all the running backs on the roster for 2020 and into 2021.
When looking at the coaches, it is important to know who Matt LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett have been working with in their past. As I have mentioned before, coaches often shape their team’s philosophies based on past experiences. Start with Matt Lafleur for this exercise.
With Lafleur, his past is probably well worth looking into for his offensive schemes.
2015-2017 with Kyle Shanahan
2017-2018 with Sean McVay
2018-2019 with Mike Vrabel
Each of those situations helped LaFleur experience successful running attacks. Any good coach takes lessons from his previous stops which does slightly shape their coaching philosophy. LaFleur is now putting it into practice by building an efficient line to run behind and finding versatile players like Josiah Deguara to help with fullback blocking.
During his past couple of years, LaFleur has really developed the skills of his running game. That is very evident when you look at how the team finished in the respective years.
That is especially true for the lead back as they had over half of the main production in each year. The number for was based on the percentage of rushing and receiving yards divided by the team’s total yards for running backs. That was eye-opening even for me so I am definitely wanting to try to keep LaFleur’s top back.
Nathaniel Hackett is Green Bay’s offensive coordinator going into his second season there. We already saw what he helped accomplish in 2019, but he also had stints with the Buffalo Bills (2013-2014) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (2016-2018). Let’s dive into those experiences to see what happened.
It seems that the team will have good odds of staying run-heavy as long as the team is mediocre at worst. With the improved defense from last season and a motivated Rodgers looking to keep his spot, the team should be able to stay winning at a decent amount. Every season with Hackett besides the 2014 Bills team was at least top twelve in attempts which will be useful for the running backs.
Reflecting On The 2019 Season:
The next step will be to look back on the season the team just put together. Let’s start by looking at the overarching game logs for 2019.
Games ending within 1 score: 10
Games over 100 rush yards: 11
Games over 100 rush yards with close win: 8
(Photo Credit: Pro Football Reference)
The first takeaway that sticks out to that overview is how close the games stayed. With how the coaches have talked, expect more of the same for 2020. The team exploded out of the gate with the first half scoring but struggled to keep up in the second half. That matches up with the team’s spoken philosophy to control the clock through the ground game as they were 6th in average time of possession of games. As it went along, the approach was mainly through Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams with a little help from Aaron Rodgers. No other player even cracked ten carries. The nice part was the team did not just use them as rushers with both backs finishing 2nd and 3rd in team receptions for 2019. That versatility was great for a team lacking a true #2 receiver.
(Photo Credit: Pro Football Reference)
Even with as dominant of a season that Aaron Jones had, his spike weeks came with Jamaal Williams missing time. In week 4, Jamaal gets injured and misses the whole game along with the next game. When Jamaal came back, he immediately outplayed Jones for a 100 yard rushing game when Jones just exploded for a forty plus point game against Dallas. Jones again went off once Williams went down in week 16 with a shoulder injury and missed week 17. The key takeaway from looking at this showed that the team was letting their RB2 (Williams) play at least 40% of the snaps in every game that he was healthy. Using Jamaal’s Sleeper game logs, I averaged his healthy games to see he averaged 46.3% of the snaps. In those same games, Jones averaged out to 55.1% of the snaps.
Look at the game logs of Sleeper as another view of the production and snaps of both backs.
(Photo Credit: Sleeper)
With that quick recap, Aaron Jones had 55.1% of the snaps played in games where Jamaal Williams (46.3% snaps) was healthy. They controlled the backfield together and were the 2nd and 3rd highest reception leaders for the team. With a second decent back, the team definitely limits Aaron Jones’s upside. Now the team has not only Jamaal Williams, but also the rookie addition of AJ Dillon. The next question becomes is Dillon a better backup than Williams?
(Photo Credit: RotoViz)
The Big Three Running Backs:
The last part is just comparing the three guys expecting to be at the top of the running back depth chart. I highlighted the player with the best score in green, second place in yellow, and third in red. The colors were just a place marker as some numbers fell very close together.
Comparing the metrics of each player, the rookie contains a much better athletic profile than Jamaal Williams focusing on the numbers from their combine and college seasons. The main question mark for Dillon will be whether he can show that he can handle catching the football. Outside of the college target share, AJ Dillon even showed close or better than Aaron Jones. 2019 showed Aaron Jones with that 55% snap share finishing as PPR RB2 overall and Jamaal Williams at 46% share finishing as PPR RB34. We already know there will be some likely regression from Jones in the TD department, but Dillon and Williams will cap the snap share for Jones causing his value to fall. If Dillon can take part of the TD usage and proves to have receiving talent, he can finish as a top 30 RB even this season, assuming we get a close to full season. The worry is to watch how the team handles the difficult schedule the team should face at the front of the season. Games against the Saints, Buccaneers, 49ers, and Falcons may damper the chances of teams relying on a single Packers RB to reach the fantasy playoffs.
(Photo Credit: RotoViz)
Aaron Jones should be the top guy this season, but a better backup situation and difficult early schedule may make it tough to use him in hopes of a fantasy playoff berth. That concern grows even more if the defense does not perform like it did last year. I would not hold Williams for anything besides trading to the Jones owner as part of a throw-in offer. Dillon is a great stash for 2021 teams and may prove himself as a flex in deep starting size leagues.