AJ Dillon will be a Factor in Packers Passing Game

He may not have a ton of experience as a pass-catcher, but you can bet that AJ Dillon will be a factor in the Green Bay Packers' passing game this season.

Perhaps the biggest reason that many within the draft community scoffed at the Green Bay Packers' selection of AJ Dillon in the second round was that they took a running back in the second round--something that is a big no-no among many given how replaceable that position has come.
 
Another reason was that not only did the Packers spend a second-round pick on a running back, by one with very little experience as a pass-catcher--again, something that is considered a no-no by many in today's NFL. 
 
During his three years with Boston College, Dillon was targeted only 27 times, although he did haul in 21 of those passes and averaged 11.2 yards per catch with a pair of touchdowns, according to PFF
 
But just because Dillon wasn't a major factor in the passing game doesn't mean that he couldn't be. As GM Brian Gutekunst told us after the 2020 NFL Draft, Dillon's absence in the passing game was largely a by-product of the Golden Eagle offense:
 
“In our offense, there’s probably more room for his creativity than what he did at Boston College, and a lot more in the passing game,” Gutekunst said via Packers Wire after the 2020 Draft. “As we went through the process in the spring, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield for a man his size was something – again, he didn’t do a lot of it at Boston College – but it was attractive to us.”
 
As we look ahead to the Green Bay Packers 2021 season, which is now just right around the corner, Dillon's role is set to increase exponentially. And while he, of course, is going to see his fair share of carries, don't let his lack of experience in the passing game fool you; he is going to be an active participant. 
 
As we all know by now, the Matt LaFleur offense prides itself on achieving the "illusion of complexity," as he calls it, which is essentially running similar concepts but from a variety of personnel groupings and also running "like plays," or a grouping of plays that begin similarly but are actually quite different. All of which is meant to keep the defense off-balanced and guessing.
 
Well, it's very difficult to achieve that illusion of complexity if Dillon is a one-dimensional running back. In fact, that takes away quite a bit of the illusion. So for that reason alone, you can expect Dillon to be involved in the passing game--it's a must for any running back within this offense.
 
With that said, it's also not as if the Packers are going to be force-feeding the ball to Dillon just for the sake of doing so. They drafted him because they expect him to and believe that he can make plays as a pass-catcher. 
 
“You see him in practice sometimes when we put him out of the backfield on some of the routes, he’s got really good hands,” LaFleur said via Packers News. “Shoot, he made a couple really good plays for us in the pass game a year ago, if I remember there was a flat route he caught on the left side and he was able to stick his foot in the ground and go get 20 yards. I think he’s come a long way in terms of pass protection. I think that’s one of the hardest skills for young running backs to learn is the intricacies of that. I think he’s done a really nice job of that. We’re excited about what he potentially could bring to this football team.”
 
In his limited playing time during the 2020 season, Dillon caught both his targets for 21 yards and had another opportunity or two for a downfield pass on a wheel route where the defense lost track of him because they likely weren't all that concerned. This wheel route is something to keep your eyes on this season--I'd say it's likely that at some point, Aaron Rodgers finds Dillon for a big play.
 
Then during his limited action this preseason, Dillon would catch all three of his targets for 16 yards. While all of this is certainly a small sample size, Dillon has done much of his work and taken the bulk of his pass-catching reps in practice, where as noted above, he's caught the eye of LaFleur and improved as a pass-blocker--another important aspect in all of this. 
 
So no, Dillon doesn't have the college experience, the stats, and he doesn't really look like the prototypical pass-catching running back, but you can bet that he will be a factor in the Green Bay Packers passing game. LaFleur's offense requires it, and Dillon has the skill-set to do so.
 
“What surprised me is, you might not see it much during games, but you go to practice, and you see him running routes and see him catching the football. And he’s got real good hands,” said Packers college scout Mike Owens following the 2020 NFL Draft via Packers Wire. “His receiving game is actually further along than you might believe. That’s just an added element to his game. He does have pass-catching ability.”

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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9 points

Comments (21)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
dobber's picture

September 06, 2021 at 11:04 am

He needs to be, otherwise putting him on the field makes it easier for the defense to figure out what's coming and limits his effectiveness.

6 points
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Leatherhead's picture

September 06, 2021 at 12:08 pm

I’m going to dispute that dobber.

If we line up Dillon as the lone back, it won’t necessarily signal run. If Adams. MVS, and Lazard line up wide, you still have to play nickel coverage, leaving only 6 run defenders against six blockers and Dillon.

I think the presence of Cobb is more of an indicator. He’s not a lot of help in the run game.

9 points
9
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LambeauPlain's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:02 pm

LH, I agree with Dobber. If your RBs are pass catching threats, D pass pro will have to play both run and pass equally well, especially in 12 or 22 personnel.

If you were to line up with one back and there is extensive tape on mostly handoffs, you shade to protecting the box against run. Do that to a RB who is also a solid threat in the pass game, advantage O.

2 points
5
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Leatherhead's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:49 pm

If they want to creep up against Dillon, that’s fine with me. I’d be interested in knowing how you plan on covering the other four receivers.

If you don’t double Adams, Rodgers to Adams will nickel and dime you to death. We’ve seen that.
If MVS is on the field, you’re going to need a plan to keep him from hurting you.
Lazard is going to have to be covered by a guy much shorter and smaller.

And then there’s Tonyan, and you’d better have somebody who can guard him.

Now how many run defenders are on the field? How much do we outweigh them?

I think Dillon is going to be an adequate receiving threat, but even if he isn’t, you still have to defend the pass and hope you can stop the Packers from just grinding your sausage .

5 points
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splitpea1's picture

September 06, 2021 at 11:12 am

Small sample size, but so far so good. The big thing is that MLF seems pleased with his improvement in pass protection. I would think Dillon would be a useful receiving option inside the red zone as he encounters smaller defenders on his way to the goal line.

6 points
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Coldworld's picture

September 06, 2021 at 12:32 pm

Agreed. Pass protection is even more critical in this O, and just as important to opening up the number of variables in how a personnel group can be used.

4 points
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PatrickGB's picture

September 07, 2021 at 11:38 am

I expect to see more blitz from the opponents to test Dillon in pass pro. They could both run or pass blitz against our one back formation. This will test our rookies on the line and Dillons pass protection. Quick passes to the slot would help mitigate that. I hope we throw out any toss plays from our playbook.

1 points
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CheesyTex's picture

September 06, 2021 at 11:24 am

"A.J. Dillon WILL BE a factor..."

That's certainly that I'm hoping. The hard facts we have so far are his exceptional body, athleticism, and one excellent bad weather game vs. Tennessee to suggest he WILL BE a factor.

But it sure is exciting to think of the possibilities he brings to the table in MLF's "illusion of complexity" offense.

7 points
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Postman's picture

September 06, 2021 at 11:47 am

AJ will love to get a couple of swing passes in the flat and truck smaller corners and safeties. His size and power should be used early and often in the 1st and 2nd quarters. Watch for Aaron Jones to have his best statistics in the 3rd quarter this year if MLF plays AJ early to soften and pull up the secondary. It will be fun to watch.

5 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

September 06, 2021 at 11:54 am

Just for the sake of his career - I also hope that he develops his passing game. As entertaining as it is to watch him truck tacklers - he can't constantly do that without experiencing some degree of physical attrition - even at his size and strength. Getting him in space vs. 1 tackler - would not only open the offense even more - but also lessen his collision load. Also, I look forward to his YACs.

5 points
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Gee's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:41 pm

Plus an added bonus, is a swing or wheel route, I dont want to be the db asked to tackle that. If they use it early in the season when the weather good, and dbs are being blown up, imagine come December, will they be willing tacklers? If I'm a betting man, I'll take AJ every time.

6 points
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PatrickGB's picture

September 06, 2021 at 12:13 pm

With two rookies on the Oline my hope is that he also does well in pass pro. One would think that size alone would help but we all know it’s more than just size. It takes smarts and technical skills as well. Also, let’s not forget that the guy he replaced was spot on when it came to that and Williams never fumbled. It’s a tall order for a near rookie but I think he can do it.

5 points
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wildbill's picture

September 06, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Hopefully he is like Lacy, who had exceptional hands, and gains the trust of Rodgers.

4 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:16 pm

I get your thought, but I'm hoping he is a lot better than Lacy, especially during dinner.

6 points
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Gee's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:45 pm

No one was better at dinner than Lacy, well maybe the Fridge or my man Gilbert Gravedigger Brown

4 points
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dblbogey's picture

September 06, 2021 at 04:02 pm

Nobody was better than Lacy at dinner.

3 points
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SanLobo's picture

September 06, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Of course he will in a LaFleur offense where on the same play formation he may block, run or catch a pass. Player versatility is a big part of our game and there is no doubt he is being groomed to play his roles accordingly. He will be fun to watch this season.

5 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:11 pm

I know the O line will take some time to develop as a group, so I would expect a heavy dose 12 and 22 personnel (both utilizing 2 TEs) which will likely have Big Dog helping the Big Guys block.

Having 3 RBs who can run pass and block will give the OL time to gel and become dominant like the last few years.

AJD is going to be fun to watch along with lead back AJ.

4 points
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Gee's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:48 pm

What's worse is who getting the ball, ugh would hate being the LB that guessed wrong and have AJ coming full speed. Oh the possibilities.

3 points
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Packers0808's picture

September 06, 2021 at 01:32 pm

Have a feeling there will be a few roll out plays with hand offs to Dillon to help keep down the beating of his body as well as a variety of pass plays in his actions!

0 points
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Bure9620's picture

September 06, 2021 at 08:03 pm

AJ Dillon is primed for a breakout season. I was a big fan of the draft pick and had him on several mocks due to him fitting most of the Packers RAS requirements. As I have said here before, I live in New England and and was able to watch Dillon at BC. He was their whole offense....they had a mobile QB that didn't throw well so Dillon carried them. As we saw, he is fluid in the pass game too. Dillon breaks out this year.

6 points
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