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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.