Green Bay Packers: Running backs will split carries in 2018

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 12: Jamaal Williams #30 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 12, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 12: Jamaal Williams #30 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 12, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Green Bay Packers’ 2018 offense will feature three running backs with a wide variety of skill sets.

Don’t expect one running back to consume a large portion of the carries for the Green Bay Packers next season. Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery all bring something different in the way they attack out of the backfield. This versatility will allow the Packers to have a running game by committee moving forward.

In the past, NFL offenses relied on a featured back to carry the ball upwards of 300 times a season. However, new evidence shows there’s longevity and flexibility in splitting carries among multiple players.

Look no further than the 2017 New Orleans Saints for an offense that successfully implemented a multi-back system. Head coach Sean Payton split carries between Marvin Ingram and Alvin Kamara en route to the finishing as the number two offense in the league. Kamara won Offensive Rookie of the Year while Ingram went on to record a second consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards rushing.

New Orleans built upon a rediscovered trend for implementing a stable horse of running backs, but unlike the Saints two-back system, the Packers will rely on three backs to be productive next year.

Jones looks like the early favorite to receive the bulk of the carries as a slasher with a knack for breaking off big plays. He had a team-high six rushes for 20 or more yards in 2017. In the offseason, Jones added weight and muscle to his 5-foot-9 frame in order to provide more support in pass protection and help against the wear and tear that comes with being an NFL running back.

Williams distinguished himself as Green Bay’s power back as a rookie. He’s the only runner that appeared in every game which allowed him to lead the team in yards and carries. His 818 yards from scrimmage were second on the team to receiver Davante Adams. Williams ranked as one of the top running backs in adjusted rushing according to Football Outsiders.

Finally, Montgomery is healthy and will be looked at as a chess piece within the offense. With more background as a receiver, he hasn’t quite gained traction for being an NFL running back. The element of surprise he possessed in 2016 has gradually worn off. Where Montgomery has proved to be most effective is catching passes out of the backfield while occasionally receiving a hand-off to keep the defense honest.

It’s uncommon to find an offense that rotates three running backs on a consistent basis, but head coach Mike McCarthy won’t let outside perspective dictate the direction of his team.

“The fact of the matter is we’re going to go running back by committee,” he said at the conclusion of the OTAs, per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “But if one of them would emerge as that full-time guy then you have to have that ability… adjust to that. As far as planning and going into the season, that’s why we’re going about it that way. We feel like we’ve got three guys that have all done it, but they haven’t done it over a long period of time, so I think it’s just practical thinking from that position and realizing that it’s a very demanding position.”

The closest thing you might find that could resemble what the Packers’ 2018 offense might look like is how the Oakland Raiders used a three-back system in 2016.

Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington each totaled at least 80 carries over the course of the season. Oakland’s run game ranked six in the NFL- the same as their total offense.

Murray was the Raiders’ most relied upon ball-carrier with 195 attempts for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. Whether it be Jones, Williams, or Montgomery these are the number McCarthy can expect from his ‘full-time’ guy.

Richard and Washington finished with 83 and 87 carries, respectively. They both recorded over 450 yards rushing- rounding out one of the most potent rushing attacks in the league that year.

All three running backs were also effective in the passing game. Murray was the leader in receptions with 33, but Richard was a close second with 29. Smart money would bet on Montgomery leading Green Bay’s backfield in catches with anywhere from 30-50 receptions. The leader in attempts for the Packers will likely see 150 to 200 carries. His backup will see around 100 and the third back may have close to 50 attempts.

The presumption is that Jones and Williams will be fighting for the starting job come training camp at the end of the month. Who gets more carries over the course of the season will sort itself out by who actually produces. The only certainty we have is that all three running backs will touch the ball in 2018. There’s too much talent not to keep guys fresh by relying on one pair of legs. Don’t expect a single guy to reach 250 carries this season, but if he does it’s because he earned them.