GREEN BAY, Wis. – At 250 pounds and with blocks the size of redwood, AJ Dillon is one running back.
Last season, he led the Green Bay Packers with 803 rushing yards. More than just a battering ram, Dillon has emerged as one of the most reliable and effective running backs in the NFL. Although they have vastly different styles, the dual-threat abilities of Dillon and co-captain Aaron Jones will be a critical part of how the Packers adjust to life without Davante Adams.
“Let me just point out the mayor of Door County,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said a few days ago. “When he came in here, he was a big back that we expected to be able to perform very well. Of all the people we’ve had over the last three years, he has to be on a very short list of guys who have improved so drastically.
“His pass catching ability is really, really good, and he’s made tough catches look easy over the last couple of years and in this training camp. I couldn’t be more proud of ’28’ and his approach, the way he’s handled him not just as a player in that locker room, a player coming up, but a member of that community. AJ Dillon, he’s a Green Bay guy now.
There are many things that come with being a “Green Bay man.” Rodgers hinted that he was doing the right things on and off the field. Dillon, who has embraced the area as few have over the years, has. But being a “Green Bay running back” means you have to be, as Dillon called it during the offseason, an “APB,” or all-purpose back. Dillon emerged as an APB last season when he caught 34-of-37 targets for 313 yards.
How good is that? Of the 44 backs targeted at least 35 times, he ranked third in catch percentage and eighth in yards after the catch per catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
“For me, it was definitely an opportunity because they didn’t throw the ball to me at BC,” said Dillon of carrying the ball 845 times but catching just 21 passes at Boston College. “That’s just how our offense was. Here, you get the ball thrown at you constantly, all the time. We do routes, you do one-on-ones. So the opportunity for you to become better is always there.”
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Dillon knew he had to get better to fit into Matt LaFleur’s offense. As a rookie second-round pick in 2020, Dillon was stuck behind all-purpose backs Jones and Jamaal Williams. Jones and Williams combined for 78 receptions. Dillon only played 97 snaps.
“They both play at such a high level and they can both catch, they can both run routes,” Dillon said. I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s what it takes to be successful in the league, to go on and get your second contract and also be on this team and play 12.’ Going into the next offseason, that was something on the which I was working”.
And he continued to work on it this past offseason. He’s been outstanding through the first nine practices of training camp, whether he’s been an outlet receiver and grabbed the occasional snap during team drills or worked against linebackers De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker in one-on-ones.
“He’s just more confident,” he continued. “Going out there, running those routes and doing it over and over again, and then trusting my hands, trusting my body in the air and stuff like that. It’s just repetition and trust.”
With an unsettled group of receivers and potential injury issues on the offensive line, LaFleur and Rodgers are counting on the running backs more than normal. That doesn’t mean simply handing the ball to Jones and Dillon and hoping they can get the first down on first down. It also means mixing them up in the passing game and letting them work against the linebackers.
Dillon, who has 750.5 total yards on FanDuel Sportsbook, says he’s up to the challenge.
“I feel really good,” he said. “I’m still not 100 percent, but what I’m most excited about is that I feel like I’m having a lot more fun. I think back to my time at BC and I really wasn’t thinking – you stop thinking about things when the game slows down. I know the vast majority of the offense. I know the majority of the protections and how things will turn out.
“I am having fun. I play loose. I play fast. Even though it might be a tenth of a second, “Oh wait, should I catch it like this?” That doesn’t cross my mind. I’m just reacting as I should. I guess it would be my biggest [thing] I’m getting to that point where I’m playing free, having fun, enjoying the whole process, being great with my teammates and just playing loose.”