Quick thoughts on Packers position groups: Who emerges as RB3?

Running back Lew Nichols (32) during the 2023 Green Bay Packers’ rookie minicamp on Friday, May 5, 2023 at the Don Hutson Center indoor practice facility in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Running back Lew Nichols (32) during the 2023 Green Bay Packers’ rookie minicamp on Friday, May 5, 2023 at the Don Hutson Center indoor practice facility in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin /

In this quiet portion of the NFL offseason, I will be taking a closer look at each of the Green Bay Packers position groups.

In this series, I will be going position by position and sharing my thoughts on what I’ve seen and heard through OTAs and minicamp. I’ll also discuss my expectations within the position group, questions I still have, and just about anything else that is on my mind.

Next up is the running backs, and if you’ve missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them below.


Current roster: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Patrick Taylor, Lew Nichols, Tyler Goodson, and Emanuel Wilson

-Understandably so, all eyes will be on the receiver position for the Packers, but success for the offense really begins with having a run game to lean on. If the run game is struggling, that will put the offense in regular second and third and long situations, which creates some predictability and won’t be easy for a young quarterback and pass catchers to overcome on a consistent basis. On the flip side, a stout run game will put the offense in favorable down and distances, open up the playbook for Matt LaFleur, and help keep the defense guessing.

-In part, finding success on the ground means being consistent with it. While I’m sure the injuries and movement along the offensive line played a factor, through the first half of last season, the Packers ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in rush attempts per game. I can’t imagine that run-pass mix is going to be consistently effective with this young offense. The red zone, in particular, is where Green Bay has to be more consistent running the ball, specifically giving Aaron Jones more opportunities. Last season, defenses often dared the Packers to throw the ball, and frequently they did. Not that running into heavy boxes regularly is the thing to do but Green Bay has to do some of the dictating as well.

-If the Packers run game is going to be at its best, that means a bounce-back season from AJ Dillon will be a must. As I detailed in a recent article, Dillon averaged just 4.1 yards per carry last season, and in only eight games would he average over 4.0 yards per attempt. He forced eight fewer tackles compared to 2021, despite having a very similar amount of rush attempts, and he ranked 20th in yards after contact after ranking seventh the year before. Aaron Jones will still be the top option, but with the Packers being mindful of his snap counts, Dillon will play a huge role.

-Towards the end of last season, Jones was dealing with some lingering injuries that kept him out of practice and had the Packers being mindful of his snap counts each week. But if healthy, I hope we see more of Jones this season. In 2022, the carry split was about 55/45 in favor of Jones. To put it simply, he’s just a playmaker with the ball in his hands, even if it doesn’t look like much is there. Jones led the NFL in yards per rush last season with 5.3, according to PFF, along with ranking seventh in missed tackles forced and eighth in rushes of 10-plus yards.

– I imagine that both Jones and Dillon will be relied on somewhat heavily as pass catchers as well. For one, having that element and ability to line up in the slot plays into that illusion of complexity we hear LaFleur talking about, but two, it can create some easier completion opportunities for Jordan Love and overall add some stability to the passing game.

– Running backs coach Ben Sirmans said that special teams play would be a big factor in deciding who the third running back is, which makes sense given that Jones and Dillon will be taking all the offensive snaps. So if that third running back is going to contribute, it’s likely going to have to happen on special teams. I would also venture to say pass blocking abilities will be important as well.

– Patrick Taylor wasn’t a draft pick like Lew Nichols, and he doesn’t have the same playmaking abilities as Tyler Goodson, but the reasons mentioned in the last section are why he was the primary third running back last season. Both Goodson and Nichols will have to show they can hold their own in those areas.

– Nichols may be a seventh-round pick, but he checks the boxes when it comes to what the Packers want at the running back position. He was, of course, a productive ball carrier, but he also had 88 career targets at Central Michigan, and pass-blocking experience. He did play just three special teams snaps, however. When it comes to Nichols, keep in mind that the Packers have very much preferred to roster their draft picks under Brian Gutekunst and LaFleur.

– I’m not sure where Goodson fits on the special teams unit. He’s often been used in practice and in the preseason as the return man, but the Packers have Keisean Nixon and Jayden Reed, so most likely, he will need to carve out a new role. With that said, and knowing special teams will play a big role in this decision, at least right now, I’m not sure how you keep him off the roster. At some point, especially with a young offense, you should just want playmakers, and Goodson is that. He’s difficult to bring down as a ball carrier and can impact the passing game as well.

– If you recall, on last season’s initial 53-man roster, the Packers kept only two running backs. With the practice squad elevation rules that allow a player to be elevated on game days up to three times, it gives teams a lot more flexibility. Perhaps the Packers could go this route again if they find themselves in a number crunch with crowded positions like receiver, edge rusher, and safety, to name a few.

– For those unfamiliar with Emanuel Wilson, he is a undrafted rookie from DII Fort Valley State where he put up really impressive numbers. In 2021, he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and a whopping 6.8 yards in 2022. Wilson also had 31 receptions during that span.