Who will the Packers' third-string running back be in 2021?

The Power Sweep

Behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, the Packers have three mysteries at running back.Aaron Cornia/MSU Athletics, Joe Murphy/Getty Images, Leon Halip/Getty Images

Two things are true about the Packers’ running back depth chart: the top two spots are absolutely locked up, and anything beyond those top two spots is an absolute mystery.

Aaron Jones enters the season as the undisputed top dog in the Packers’ backfield — possibly for the first time in his career. Even after he was freed from the shackles of Mike McCarthy, there was always a bit of a 1 and 1a relationship between Jones and Jamaal Williams, possibly due to the fact that they were drafted in the same year (with Williams, as some forget, coming off the board first).

Behind him is AJ Dillon, a watermelon-smashing freight train who will presumably serve as the thunder to Jones’ lightning. A 2020 second-round draft pick, Dillon is Jones’ anointed sidekick and should be in line for a meaty role this year after languishing for most of last season due to complications from COVID-19, among other things.

Beyond that, though, the Packers’ running back room is a bit of an unknown quantity. Three running backs are on the roster currently, and all three have at least a shot at nabbing the third running back spot. Here’s a look at the contenders.

Kylin Hill’s versatility is hard to ignore

A seventh-round pick in 2021, Kylin Hill probably has the inside track on the number three job, in part because he has the cleanest injury history of the three non-Jones/Dillon backs on the roster.

Hill opted out of his final college season after three games, but he had a largely uneventful career injury-wise prior to that. The same can’t be said for other running back contenders Patrick Taylor and Dexter Williams, both of whom have missed significant time as pros with a variety of maladies.

What makes Hill stand out, though, is his versatility. Playing in Mike Leach’s wide-open Air Raid system, Hill contributed as both a runner and a receiver, nabbing 63 passes over his final three seasons at Mississippi State to go with more than 2,000 yards on the ground.

That kind of skill set is rare in a late-round pick, and that could be what puts him over the top for the Packers.

Patrick Taylor offers size and speed

Unlike Hill, Taylor spent most of his college career as an understudy, sharing time with future NFL Draft picks Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, and Kenny Gainwell at Memphis. Despite that, Taylor still managed to pile up nearly 3,000 career rushing yards, averaging more than five yards per carry for the duration of his college career.

Taylor lingered on the Physically Unable to Perform list for most of last season, recovering from a foot injury sustained during his final year at Memphis and aggravated during the pre-draft process in 2020, but when healthy, he offers a size and speed combination no Packers back other than AJ Dillon can match.

At 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, Taylor posted a respectable 4.57-second 40-yard dash, part of an overall solid athletic profile. If the Packers are looking for pure athletic gifts, Taylor might be their guy.

Dexter Williams pairs experience with physical skills

Dexter Williams, though, isn’t far behind. In fact, judging solely by Relative Athletic Score, Williams actually rates as a better athlete than Taylor, though he is a couple of inches shorter and a few pounds lighter.

Still, Williams’ athletic abilities can’t be ignored, especially given his long-term experience with the Packers’ outside zone blocking scheme. Drafted in 2019, Williams has two years of experience running Matt LaFleur’s system and played in a similar scheme during his time at Notre Dame.

In fact, Williams’ experience and scheme fit were part of the reason he landed on the Packers’ radar in 2019. Packers running back coach Ben Sirmans said after the 2020 NFL Draft that Williams was a near-perfect fit for what the Packers like to do: “He should be built for this scheme because he can make explosive cuts and he can accelerate through the hole.”

To be sure, Williams has not yet translated that athleticism or experience into results with the Packers. Through two seasons, he’s only appeared in seven games, logging just seven carries for 19 yards. Still, his pedigree means he may be worth another look, even if he’s the third of three contenders for the job.

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