GREEN BAY, Wis. — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t sound too loud on the Green Bay Packers’ young receivers this week, but he certainly seems to believe in his running backs.
And not just as ball carriers, either.
He believes the combination of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon can do something a Packers running back duo have never done before when it comes to receiving.
“I think 50 is very realistic,” Rodgers said when asked how many passes Jones could catch this season.
And then it folded.
“I think 50 for both guys is realistic,” Rodgers added. “That’s three per game; I guess it would be a little less, now we play 17 games. I think that’s realistic, 50 passes, which would be a good season.”
He made that statement in the same session with reporters during which he expressed frustration with some of the young pass receivers for what he called “bad drops” and “bad routes.”
“We’re going to play with our best guys when the season starts,” Rodgers said. “And whoever those guys are, those guys are going to get the reps. They are the guys that I trust the most and the guys that the coaches trust the most.”
Dillon and Jones have met that prerequisite.
Jones topped the 50-catch mark last season; he caught 52 and missed two games due to various knee injuries. Dillon caught a career-high 34 while playing in all 17 games.
But the Packers have never had two running backs each have 50 receptions in the same season. The duo of Ahman Green and William Henderson combined for 108 catches in 2000, but Green had 73 and fullback Henderson had 35.
Since 2000, there have been six instances in the NFL in which two running backs on the same team each had at least 50 receptions in the same season, most recently on the 2017 New Orleans Saints with Alvin Kamara (81) and Mark Ingram II ( 58). , according to ESPN Stats & Information. In fact, the saints have three of the six apparitions.
Jones has no interest in stopping at 50. After some simple calculations and realizing that four catches per game would put him at 68, he agreed that 70 catches wasn’t out of the question.
“I think it’s definitely possible,” said Jones, who has 183 career receptions in 69 games over five seasons (2.7 per game). “When you put it like that, four per game, it’s definitely possible.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur knows he has to adjust some facets of the offense now that All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams (and his 169 goals last season) was traded to the Raiders during the offseason. LaFleur has already set up a variety of plays in training camp with Dillon and Jones on the field together. That duo combined for 1,602 rushing yards last season (803 for Dillon on 187 carries and 799 for Jones on 171 carries).
“We’ve had them in multiple packages where they’re both in the backfield; we have a lot of stuff from that,” Rodgers said. “We have runs for both of them, we have swing passes for them, we have screens, we have onfield stuff, we have action stuff, we have scat protection, we have six-man, seven-man protection stuff. . There’s a lot on offense for those two guys. We have to get our best 11 on the field, and it looks like those two are in the top 11.”
That Dillon has become a capable catcher seems like a surprise to everyone but Dillon. He caught just two passes as a rookie, following a three-year career at Boston College with just 21 total receptions.
“For me, it was definitely an opportunity because they didn’t throw the ball to me in BC,” Dillon said. “That was our offense. Here, you get the ball out, they throw it to you constantly, all the time.”
As a rookie in 2020, Dillon saw Jones catch 47 passes and fellow running back Jamaal Williams catch 31. Williams left in free agency after that season, opening the door for Dillon to increase his role in 2021, if he could catch.
“I’m like, ‘Okay, this is what it takes to be successful in the league, go on and get your second contracts, and also be on this team and play ’12.’ [Rodgers]'” Dillon said. “Going into the next offseason, that was something I was working on. Going into this offseason, my hands didn’t get any bigger. It’s just being more confident. Going out there, running those routes and doing it over and over again, and then trusting my hands, trusting my body in the air and things like that. It’s just repetition and trust.”
Add the uncertainty at receiver, where Allen Lazard has yet to prove he’s a WR1, where Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins must prove they can stay healthy and where rookies Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure (plus second-year pro Amari Rodgers and third-year pro Juwann Winfree) have yet to earn Rodgers’ trust, and it could be a season where the Packers have a handful of players who finish in the 40-60 receiving range.
“Yeah, maybe,” Rodgers admitted. “But I hope there is a couple that comes out of that and has really exceptional seasons. The exciting part is that you don’t know who it’s going to be. i feel like ’13’ [Lazard] it’s going to be one of them, and after that, it’s going to be interesting.”