One of the roster battles that will take place this summer for the Green Bay Packers will be for the third running back role behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. For Patrick Taylor, it’s his ability on special teams, perhaps more so than on offense, that could differentiate him from the others competing for that roster spot.
For much of the 2022 season, Taylor was the Packers’ third running back on the 53-man roster, and not surprisingly, most of his snaps came on special teams. Taylor played 121 total special teams snaps, with most coming on either the kick return or punt coverage units. His grade from PFF was the fourth-best on a much improved Packers special teams unit.
With Jones and Dillon shouldering the workload on offense, running backs coach Ben Sirmans has said that special teams will play a factor in determining who the third running back is going to be. With very little to no offensive snaps available, this is where the third running back’s impact can be the greatest.
"“I mean, special teams played a huge role in making that decision for us,” said Sirmans. “If all guys are running on all cylinders, it may come down to which one of these guys is going to more beneficial for what we want to do offensively in situations and how their response is on special teams. So it’s going to be a real deal.”"
Competing with Taylor is rookie Lew Nichols and Tyler Goodson. Nichols checks all the boxes when it comes to what the Packers look for at the running back position. He was highly productive in college, was utilized in the passing game, and has experience in pass protection. Goodson, meanwhile, brings playmaking ability to the position with burst, vision, and the ability to make defenders miss. He also can impact the passing game as well.
Both Nichols and Goodson, as ball carriers, very well may bring more upside to the running back position than Taylor. However, Nichols played just two special teams snaps during his college career at Central Michigan, while Goodson will need to carve out a specific role on special teams. Last preseason he was utilized as a return man, but with Keisean Nixon and Jayden Reed, there likely aren’t snaps available for Goodson in that capacity.
With all of that said, this isn’t meant to downplay the importance of each player’s contributions on offense—that, of course, does still very much matter. Although the bulk of the third running back’s snaps will likely come on special teams, the Packers still want as many playmakers as they can get on their roster. There is also uncertainty around the running back position next offseason, with the futures of both Jones and Dillon unknown. This puts an added emphasis on the development of younger players.
It’s also important to note, that along with being a ball carrier, reliability in the passing game and in pass protection are two other key aspects of playing running back in the Matt LaFleur offense as well.
Special teams play was a big reason why Taylor was the third running back on the 53-man roster for most of last year, even though Goodson seemed to outperform Taylor as a ball carrier during the 2022 preseason. Special teams, again, will be an important factor in determining who is behind Jones and Dillon this season. Although it’s easier to take notice of which running back has more rushing yards, also keep your eyes on which of these players is getting regular first-team reps with the special teams unit throughout training camp and the preseason. That could be more of a tell on where things stand than anything else.