AJ Dillon: Player Outlook

How Good is Rookie Running Back A.J. Dillon?

 By: Tom Ayling 

Quadzilla, King of Quads, Quad-donis, whatever nickname you want to give him, A.J. Dillon has  raised a lot of eyebrows. Do the Packers need to re-sign Aaron Jones? The answer to that  question is known only to the Packers and Aaron Jones.  

I am here to tell you what I have seen on film from Dillon, and what I think his future holds.  Before breaking down game film, here are some of the relevant data points from the combine.  Measurables:  

• Age: 21 

• Height: 6’ 

• Weight: 250 Lbs 

• Hand size: 9.63”

NFL Combine Scores/Percentile by Size: 

• 40 Yard Dash: 4.53 seconds ( 98 percentile) 

• Bench Press: 23 (52 percentile) 

• Verticle: 41” (100 percentile) 

• Broad Jump: 131” (100 percentile) 

As you may, or may not know, the combine is simply a tool to give teams an idea what type of  athlete the player in question may turn out to be. A one day snap shot does not tell the entire  story, but it does provide a baseline for pre-draft evaluation.  

Ordinarily, teams take a second look at candidates they are interested in at their pro day. Due to  COVID, that was not possible this year. Clearly the Packers were impressed enough with his  performance at the combine, and what they saw in college as they drafted him 62nd overall.  

What does the tape show us? Let’s dive in.  

Downhill Runner 

It should come as no surprise that a man this big, is a punishing runner when he gets a head of  steam. If he can find a seam in the defence to skirt through, he will more often than not break a  tackle or two and gain a couple extra yards.  

The main concern I have with his running style is that he is very much an upright runner. If he  were a little more compact, a la Adrian Peterson, he would be extremely difficult to bring down.  His size carries him over the gain line but he could break many more tackles if he made it more  difficult to get a hold of his waist and upper thighs. 

Vision 

Dillon has decent vision for a rookie running back. He runs with his head up and scans the line  for cutback lanes and potential secondary options should the main gap not open.  

The NFC divisional round game between Green Bay and the LA Rams, was a showcase for his  abilities. Late in the first quarter Dillon was supposed to hit the A gap on the right side of the  line. When the gap failed to open, he quickly recognized that the entire defensive line was  pulling towards that side and cut back to the left for a decent five yard gain. 

Some other backs his size, such as Leonard Fournette often do not see the secondary options as  they tend to run with their head down, plowing forward into contact. The fact that he is a heads  up runner, looking for openings is definitely a positive sign.  

Footwork 

For such a big man, I was pleasantly surprised at his elusiveness, and one cut ability. He is by no  means Saquon Barkley or Joe Mixon, but he is able to change direction without a whole lot of  momentum loss.  

When A.J. is at full speed, he is unable to plant and spring in the opposite direction like some of  the elite backs in the league, but he has very good subtle moves and enough direction change to  make defenders miss. At his size, if a defender does not get in front of him and only touches him  with one arm, he will break the tackle almost every time.  

Speed 

At 4.53, he has good speed for a big, bruising running back. He is in the same category as Eddie  Lacy, Derrick Henry, and Leonard Fournette. He does not have the long speed that Henry  possesses, but his short area quickness is on par with Leonard Fournette.  

Over the last month of the season, Dillon showed decent ability to get to the open lane and turn  up field for decent gains when the blocking was there. The Packers offensive line is very good  and more often than not provided a good lane for the young bull to run through.  

The biggest weakness in his game is burst and ability to hit top speed quick enough to beat  defenders to the edge and turn up field for big gains. More often than not, when he tried to  bounce a run outside the tackles he was met by defenders at the line of scrimmage for minimal or  no positive yardage.  

Potential 

Before I started the film study on A.J. Dillon, I compared the limited game footage I had seen of  him to that of former Packer, Eddie Lacy. Both Players are roughly the same size and speed, and  appeared to have similar running styles.  

After watching his 46 carries and two receptions in his rookie season, I left with the same  opinion I had coming into the film study. A.J. Dillon is a good but not special running back on a  very good team. 

Final Thoughts 

A.J. Dillon is best suited as a complimentary piece in the run game. He is big, talented, with  good vision, and hits the open gap with authority. He is not Derrick Henry, but he is a better  version of Leonard Fournette.  

I like Dillon and think he has a bright future in the NFL, but I just do not see anything special on  film so far. If Green Bay is smart, they will continue to pair him with a quicker back, and use  him in short yardage situations.

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