A more versatile role for Packers RB AJ Dillon?

By: Paul Bretl 5/8/24

Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon could potentially take on a more versatile role with the team this season, perhaps filling the void at H-back with Josiah Deguara now in Jacksonville.

“AJ is another guy that I think can be a high-volume guy,” Matt LaFleur said at the NFL Owners Meetings. “Unfortunately, this year, he battled through a lot of (injury) stuff throughout the course of the season, but I thought just from the things he was able to bring from a pass-protection standpoint this year, this was his best year at pass pro.

“So we know what we’re getting with AJ Dillon. I think there’s some versatility we can start to use with him moving forward, and start to use him more as a movable piece, not just a tailback.”

As the H-back, Deguara played roughly 15-20 snaps per game with the emergence of Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft at tight end. However, this is a role that is an important part of the Matt LaFleur offense. 

During LaFleur’s tenure as the head coach, at various times we’ve heard him use the phrase ‘the illusion of complexity.’ In short, this means keeping defenses off-balanced and guessing by running a wide variety of plays from just a few personnel packages, along with concepts building off each other throughout the course of the game with like-plays–or plays that start similarly but end up quite different.

In order to have the ‘illusion of complexity,’ it requires versatile players, and the H-back plays a role in that with the player’s ability to line up all over the formation, in addition to being able to impact both the run and passing games. 

Dillon has proven to be a reliable option for the Packers in a variety of situations, whether that be in pass protection, as a ball carrier, and in the passing game, where Dillon has caught 82 percent of his career targets along with lining up in the slot and out wide. 

“I think he’s definitely capable of that,” said running backs coach Ben Sirmans when asked if Dillon can play H-back. “I still remember a play we have called 18 Zoro where he helps the tight end blocking off the edge and roll up to the next level. 

“He did a great job with that and so many other things that we had him leading to even if he was blocking for a wide receiver so he can do some of those things and with him doing that, obviously it’ll make our offense a lot more diverse because you saw how he is catching the ball out of the backfield, especially the last half of the season, he can make things happen. Having him being that diverse is going to help this offense.”

If Dillon does take on more of an H-back role this season, there could be a trickle-down effect when it comes to the roster construction. When Deguara was the H-back, he operated out of the tight end room. Current fullback Henry Pearson, who could also fill the H-back role, is with the tight ends as well.

If the Packers keep Dillon with the running backs, that likely means that Emanuel Wilson will be left off the roster–it’s hard to envision the Packers keeping four. Admittedly, it’s also hard to imagine Dillon with the tight ends, but if that were to happen, it either means releasing Tyler Davis – a core special teams contributor – or rostering five tight ends, which can impact numbers at other positions. 

Regardless of what position or role Dillon takes on, while reliability is important, the Packers also need more playmaking from him. 

Dillon averaged just 3.4 yards per carry for the season but he did improve during the second half prior to his injury. 

Through the first seven games, Dillon averaged 3.13 yards per rush with only one game where he averaged more than 4.0 yards per attempt. During his final eight games, he averaged 3.73 yards per carry with four games over 4.0 yards per rush.

Dillon is back on a one-year deal and is far from a roster lock with the Packers incurring a dead cap hit of only $167,500 if is released. With Josh Jacobs and Marshawn Lloyd, an opportunity at H-back could allow a path for Dillon to carve out a role.

“I think really just like as you mentioned his second half of the season,” added Sirmans, “I think that’s what he expects of himself as well as what we expect of him is when this thing kicks off, for him that’s the floor of where we want him to start and where he wants to start. It’s like I told him and sometimes you can even see it, like if you took a bunch of his best plays and you put them – I know highlights make everybody look great – but if you put some of his best plays on a highlight reel, which we do when we do our POA tapes at the end of the year, you’re sitting there saying to yourself, ‘Man this guy’s got the makings of a stud’ with some of the things he’s able to do catching as well as running back and his pass protection got way better this year. 

“When you add all of those things and you figure out, OK, we just got to have a level of consistency with you playing like this and then this is when you’re the monster that we know that we have. That’s why I feel pretty good that’s the guy we’re going to see a lot of more that consistent AJ.”