The Green Bay Packers have ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing each of the last two seasons. They haven’t boasted a top-10 rushing attack since 2013. So what can fans expect from them in 2018?
It’s dependent on health more than anything — then again, isn’t everything? — but the Packers look to have the best stable of running backs they’ve had in quite some time. While none of Green Bay’s backs are likely to get 30 carries in a game, they are all likely to see ample playing time.
The expected starter has to be converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Last year, the 25-year-old finished with 273 rushing yards and 173 receiving yards to go with four total touchdowns. But his output would have been larger had he not missed half the season due to injury.
Second-year bruiser Jamaal Williams out of BYU could also make a push for the starting job. However, he is probably better suited as the team’s short-yardage back. He appeared in all 16 games a year ago, amassing 556 yards and four TDs on 153 carries.
Another second-year pro expected to provide significant contributions is former UTEP standout Aaron Jones, who gobbled up 448 yards and four TDs on 81 carries in 2017. Unfortunately for the Packers, he will miss the first two regular season games after violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
During Jones’ absence, Devante Mays will probably become Green Bay’s third-string back. But he had just one carry as a rookie last year, so his value is still relatively unknown.
Obviously, the Packers have three players worthy of starting. All three bring something different to the table, but all of them will be vital to the team’s success.
Whoever receives the starting nod, it is imperative that the Packers develop a consistent rushing attack. Aaron Rodgers is an all-time great quarterback capable of making plays that most can’t, but he missed nine games during the 2017 season with a broken collarbone. He isn’t invincible.
Williams is the Packers’ best pass-blocking back, which is something else to think about. But he doesn’t have the big-play ability that Montgomery and Jones possess.
With that said, Montgomery doesn’t have the size that Williams and Jones have. Thus, all things considered, Jones probably has the most potential of the three and should be given every opportunity to become the starter once his two-game suspension is up.
Last year, Jones broke out against the Dallas Cowboys after injuries to Montgomery and Williams. He carried 19 times for 125 yards and a TD in a 35-31 Packers win.
His big-play ability is something Green Bay needs more of from its run game if it hopes to make a deep playoff run. The Packers missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. This season, they’ll be looking to start a new postseason streak.
The NFL is becoming more and more of a passing league, but the best teams are those who also possess a strong ground game. Take the 2017 New Orleans Saints, for example. Drew Brees’ 4,334 passing yards were certainly noteworthy, but the defending NFC South champions also got 1,124 rushing yards from Mark Ingram and 728 rushing yards from Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
Green Bay can be every bit as good as the Saints were last year, at least on offense. Brees and Rodgers are both future first-ballot Hall of Famers, but give Brees the run game that Rodgers had when healthy last year and he probably doesn’t make the playoffs either.
The return of Joe Philbin as the Packers’ offensive coordinator figures to help. Prior to his tenure as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach from 2012-15, he served in that role for five seasons.
The Packers’ records in those five seasons: 13-3, NFC championship appearance; 6-10, missed playoffs; 11-5, reached playoffs; 10-6, won Super Bowl; 15-1, reached playoffs. That’s a combined regular season record of 55-25.
Not only that, but Green Bay also ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in points scored and total yards in each of those five years. So Philbin certainly knows a thing or two about moving the ball and putting points on the board.
Look for him and the Packers’ three-headed monster of running backs to restore balance to what was once one of the league’s most prolific offenses. More importantly, look for Green Bay to represent the NFC in the playoffs once again.