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Packers 2024 Preview: Running Backs

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By: Justis Mosqueda

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

AJ Dillon could win the RB2 over rookie MarShawn Lloyd or lose his roster spot altogether to preseason darling Emanuel Wilson.

This offseason, the Green Bay Packers made the decision to move off of running back Aaron Jones, due to the two sides not seeing eye-to-eye on a reworked deal. At the time, Jones was due a cap hit of $17.6 million — an incredibly high mark for a back nearing 30 years old. Ultimately, Jones turned down the Packers’ offer to rework the final year of his contract to a one-year, $4 million contract with $2 million in additional money that he could have potentially earned through incentives. Instead, he signed with the rival Minnesota Vikings a day later on a one-year deal that paid him $6 million with $1 million in additional incentives.

So how will the Packers replace one of the three best running backs in Green Bay history? Well, signing a splash free agent doesn’t hurt. The team has also made it clear that they will still be using some elements of a committee moving forward, too, which should allow other backs to continue to touch the ball.

With all that said, let’s dive into every running back on the Packers’ roster and explain what the projections and expectations are for each of these ball-carriers are in 2024.

As a reminder, we’ll be going position-by-position in this series, touching on every single player on Green Bay’s 91-man roster over the next two weeks. Below is our publishing schedule:

  • May 13th: Quarterbacks
  • May 14th: Running Backs
  • May 15th: Receivers
  • May 16th: Tight Ends
  • May 17th: Offensive Linemen
  • May 19th: Defensive Tackles
  • May 19th: Defensive Ends
  • May 20th: Linebackers
  • May 21st: Cornerbacks
  • May 22nd: Safeties
  • May 23rd: Specialists

Josh Jacobs

After signing a four-year, $48 million contract in free agency, Josh Jacobs is clearly going to be the number one back for the Green Bay Packers in 2024. The Packers have spoken well about Jacobs’ ability to play as an all-around back, noting all the different run schemes that he executed with the Las Vegas Raiders on top of his pass-catching ability.

The 26-year-old two-time Pro Bowler should be the starting back for Green Bay for at least the next two years, as it’s cheaper for the team to keep him on the roster than to cut him up until that date. Over five years with the Raiders, Jacobs averaged 95.8 total yards per game when he was active and he has played at least 13 games in each of his NFL seasons — so get used to hearing his name early and often in games.

With Jacobs leading the backfield, we might see the Packers move to a more gap-heavy run scheme in the ground game. Green Bay typically plays a lot of zone runs, but Jacobs was able to put up pretty good numbers running power, counter, iso and duo plays with the Raiders — who had one of the most versatile run games in the league during his five years with the franchise.

MarShawn Lloyd

AJ Dillon

Behind Jacobs, it’s uncertain who will take over as the team’s RB2, though. The Packers have made it clear that they think there will still be somewhat of a committee backfield in Green Bay, despite Jacobs’ contract, simply due to how they view the sport being played.

So even if Jacobs does stay healthy, it’s highly likely that at least one of AJ Dillon or MarShawn Lloyd will be featured out of the Packers’ backfield pretty consistently.

Dillon, a 26-year-old “backup,” has started just 11 NFL games since he entered the league in 2020. What that number doesn’t tell you, though, is that he’s recorded at least 600 rushing yards behind former starter Aaron Jones in head coach Matt LaFleur’s committee backfield over the last three years. Still, Dillon wasn’t able to find much of a market in free agency this offseason, leading to him signing a rare four-year qualifying contract that will pay him $2.7 million but only count $1.3 million against the Packers’ salary cap.

With Dillon on a one-year deal going into the 2024 draft, it wasn’t surprising that general manager Brian Gutekunst ended up taking USC rookie MarShawn Lloyd in the third round. According to former Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who crossed paths with Lloyd when the back was a ball carrier for South Carolina in the SEC, Lloyd was the second-best back in the 2024 draft class.

Lloyd has rare breakaway speed for a 220-pound back, something the Packers desperately needed off of the bench to pair with Dillon, but there are certainly flaws in his game that led to him falling to the third round. First of all, fumbles have been an issue for the back, as he’s turned over the ball eight times in three years — including three times in 2023. He’s also not much of a pass protector, at least yet, a phase of the game where Dillon thrives.

Green Bay’s coaches have even mentioned that Dillon could play more of an H-back or fullback role this season than in previous years, as that might fit his skillset better. Previously, Dillon wasn’t too fond of the idea of him playing fullback, so we’ll just have to see how that one plays out.

Either way, at least one of Dillon and Lynch will end up spelling Jacobs in 2024. Dillon will likely stick around, in a worst-case scenario, as a blocking back on third downs. If Dillon wins the RB2 job straight up, though, Lynch could get buried for the 2024 season.

Emanuel Wilson

With Aaron Jones and Patrick Taylor leaving in free agency, things were actually shaping up well for Emanuel Wilson to stick on the Packers’ 2024 roster, despite the squad signing Josh Jacobs and re-signing AJ Dillon. That was until the draft, when the addition of MarShawn Lloyd made Green Bay’s roster crunch a tougher task for Wilson to overcome.

At this point, Wilson — a 2023 undrafted free agent who Green Bay got via the Denver Broncos — is probably fourth on the depth chart at a three-player position. Last summer, Wilson broke onto the scene with a 223-rushing yards preseason. He was good enough to make the 2023 roster, but with the new 4-3 defense — which demands more off-ball linebacker bodies — and the changes to special teams — which should make kickoff return and kickoff units more valuable — it’s going to be hard for the Packers to justify keeping a fourth back on the active roster, especially over so many recent draft choices.

For Wilson to earn a 53-man roster spot, he’s probably going to have to displace AJ Dillon on the depth chart, which means that Lloyd would be the team’s RB2. That’s a lot of assumptions that need to be made, which is why Wilson will probably find himself as the odd man out when all is said and done — assuming there isn’t an injury to the unit.

Ellis Merriweather

Jarveon Howard

Both Ellis Merriwether and Jarveon Howard are much more likely to stick on the Packers’ practice squad in 2024 than the team’s 53-man roster. Merriweather was signed by Green Bay in Week 9 of last season, when he joined the Packers’ practice squad after a preseason stint with the New Orleans Saints. As of yet, we haven’t seen the 2023 undrafted rookie free agent play a single snap in a green and gold uniform, as he was never activated from the practice squad after he arrived in Green Bay.

Howard is another undrafted free-agent player, as he signed with the Packers after last month’s draft. He originally began his career at Syracuse before transferring to Alcorn State, an HBCU program that plays at the FCS level. At Alcorn State, he carried the ball 403 times for 2,048 yards and 19 touchdowns over two years. According to his Syracuse bio, Howard was a short-yardage back for the Orange before sitting out the 2020 season and eventually deciding to transfer out of the program a month into the 2021 campaign. He also comes from Columbia, Mississippi, the same town where Walter Payton was born and raised. That’s fun.

Originally posted on ACME Packing Company