Ted Thompson went nuts on running backs in the draft (or was it someone else?), taking 3 when in all his years previous, he had only taken 6 total.
No one predicted this, especially since the Packers had Don Jackson and Christine Michael (who some fans thought was good for some reason – he wasn’t) backing up TyMo and Ripkowksi looking like a serviceable change of pace back.
With the release of Michael and Jackson, the stable is now (pending unofficial UDFA pickups) down to Rip, Ty, backup fullback Joe Kerridge, and the three rookies that were chosen:
Jamaal Williams, BYU (4th round) – A decisive, one-cut runner made for the Packers blocking scheme. This seems like the type of fit the Packers had with Ryan Grant. He ran a 4.59 at the combine, though and Grant ran a 4.43. Still, Grant was a solid cut-and-get-yards back – he played slower than his 40 time. If Williams can stick with the cut, he should be able to find success in this scheme (assuming the question at right guard doesn’t totally submarine the whole operation).
Aaron Jones, UTEP (5th round) – Elusive runner with average speed, he gained 7.7 yards per carry. More impressively, he had 45% of his team’s yards and 49% of their touchdowns. At 5’9″, 201, he looks a little like a slower Ray Rice (4.42 vs 4.51 – though he seems to play faster). But even without Chris Johnson speed, he had 12 touchdown runs over 20 yards last year and 9 of them were over 40 yards. He could be a bit of steal, falling in the draft because of an ankle injury that cost him most of 2015 and a DWI in March (which would be the stupidest thing I’ve seen anyone do before a draft if people weren’t so stupid).
Devante Mays, Utah State (7th round) – A bruiser with a 420 pound bench press. He had a solid year in 2015 with 966 yards and 9 scores, but nagging injuries limited him to 259 yards and 3 scores, although it came with a 7.0 yard APC. That’s his whole college career. It’s hard to know what he might be or how he might fit, but he’s 5’11” 230 with a 4.5 40 and a 40.5″ vertical. That’s an eerily similar build to Eddie Lacy when he came out (5’11” 231), but faster than Big Ed’s 4.64 40. However, there is no record of Devante ever showing off Big Ed’s fancy feet or circle button. Still, an intriguing pick.
Each of these guys has a distinctively different skill set that could fit nicey in the Packers offense. A lot of people are complaining that this means we’re wasting picks. Since Ted has a history of keeping most, if not all, of his draft picks, it may seem odd that he would overload a position like this.
But consider that most NFL teams keep three running backs, as keeping only two can can be disastrous (see: Packers, 2016). It’s a position that takes a pounding and requires depth. Of the 9 backs the Packers used last year, Aaron Ripkowksi (34 carries) was the only one to play in all 16 games and he barely played a quarter of the offensive snaps. Running back fragility is rampant across the league – look at offseason darlings Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, who both went to IR last year. In fact, only 1 of the top 6 rushers in the league played in all 16 games last year.
Of the Packers 4 halfbacks, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one went to IR before the final cutdown – actually, I’ll predict it, write that down somewhere. Otherwise, they’ll probably try to sneak one onto the practice squad. That would get them down to 3 halfbacks. If they keep Rip at fullback and don’t carry a backup like Kerridge (who may stick as a special teamer or could probably slide right to the practice squad), they would be right at the league median for backs carried.
Of course, these will hopefully be more productive backs than we are used to. With distinctly different skill sets and styles, McCarthy could have a field day with run formations and variants… if he decides not to pass 70% of the time.