BY: BOB FOX—Contributor…………………………………………………………..
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The Green Bay Packers had a definite need at the running back position going into the 2017 NFL draft and general manager Ted Thompson certainly addressed that situation.
Thompson took three running backs in the draft, including Jamaal Williams of BYU in the fourth round, Aaron Jones of UTEP in the fifth round and Devante Mays of Utah State in the seventh round.
Those three backs will be competing for playing time behind Ty Montgomery, who made the transition from wide receiver to running back last season.
After those selections were made, the Packers quickly released both Christine Michael and Don Jackson from their roster at running back. The Packers then added a couple more running backs to the depth chart, as they signed two undrafted rookies, Kalif Phillips of Charlotte and William Stanback of Virginia Union.
It’s expected that the Packers will keep at least three running backs on their roster in 2017. That number could become four, if the Packers only decide to keep one fullback.
The Packers have to be excited about the production they received from the 6’0″, 216-pound Montgomery in 2016. No. 88 rushed for 457 yards on just 77 carries. That adds up to a 5.9 yards-per-attempt average.
Plus, Montgomery also hauled in 44 passes for 348 more yards.
Still, the Packers are looking for a compliment for Montgomery at running back. The rookie who has the best chance of being that player is Williams.
In his career at BYU, Williams rushed for 3,901 yards (5.4 average) and 35 touchdowns. Williams also added 60 receptions for 567 yards and another score.
In 2016, the 6’0″, 212-pound Williams rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns, which includes one game when Williams ran 287 yards and five touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Williams ran a 4.59 40.
This is what NFL scout Chris Landry said about Williams after the Packers selected him:
“A decisive, downhill grinder on college tape, Williams is a two-down back with a ceiling in the Alfred Morris range. That said, he could find himself with a big rookie role behind Ty Montgomery.”
Landry was also impressed with Williams at the Senior Bowl. I’m sure Thompson saw the same thing in Mobile that week. By the way, Landry and Thompson have known each other for over 30 years. Their relationship goes back to when Thompson was a linebacker with the Houston Oilers from 1975 though 1984. Landry was a scout for the Oilers at that time.
Landry considers Thompson as a scout’s scout, even as a general manager. Thompson is always on the road scouting, whether it’s the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, pro days or going to college games.
At the Senior Bowl, Williams had quite a performance according to Landry. This is what Landry said about Williams after the first day of practice at Mobile that week:
“BYU’s Jamaal Williams entered as the expected top running back and looked the part after Day 1. Williams is a smooth runner, and was making nice cuts during team drills and was consistently the most productive of the running back group. Williams simply looked natural.”
This is what Landry said about Williams at the next practice:
“I was surprised by the speed and quickness Williams showed. He hits the hole with authority and ran hard all day.”
This is what Landry opined about Williams the following day at practice:
“Williams was one of the better backs of the day. He ran the ball well on the inside, picking his way through the traffic and he also looked terrific catching the ball out of the backfield. He was the best of all the backs in blocking drills.”
In addition to those nice scouting reports on Williams, I also heard from a source who said that another NFL scout was very high on Williams. The source told me that the scout said, “Williams was without a doubt the best value pick the Packers had in this year’s draft and could be the surprise of the entire draft.”
So what does this all mean? Well, it looks like the Packers selected a back who has three-down back ability, as not only does Williams run well, but also is a good receiver and a solid blocking back.
Plus, the other two rookie backs who were drafted have ability as well.
Jones had a great career for the Miners, as he rushed for 4,114 yards (6.3 average) and 33 touchdowns. Jones also added 71 catches for 646 yards and seven more scores.
The 5’9″, 209-pound Jones was second-team All-Conference USA in 2014 and first-team All-Conference USA this past season.
At the combine, Jones ran a 4.56 in the 40 and excelled in a number of other drills, including the vertical jump (37.5 inches) and broad jump (127.0 inches), plus posted a very impressive 6.82 three-cone time.
This is what Landry said about Jones after the Packers selected him:
“On tape, Jones is a determined inside runner with plus vision, darting quickness, and serious big-play ability. In 2016, Jones led the nation in touchdown runs that began outside the red zone (12), including nine TD runs of 40-plus yards. While probably not an NFL workhorse, Jones is one of this year’s top sleeper running backs.”
In two years with Utah State, Mays rushed for 1,221 yards (6.1 average) and 12 touchdowns. Mays missed half of the 2016 season due to an ankle/knee injury.
The 5’10”, 230-pound Mays had a great pro day, as Landry gave his thoughts on the selection of Mays by the Packers:
“Mays (5’10/230) is the third running back the Packers have drafted this weekend, so they’re taking as many chances at their weakest offensive position. He ran 4.52 at Utah State’s Pro Day with an explosive 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump. Mays will compete for a final roster spot.”
So, while it’s still just the middle of May and there are OTAs and training camp ahead for the Packers, right now it looks like the team will utilize a tandem of Montgomery and Williams at running back for the most part.
It appears that Jones and Mays will battle for the third running back job. The ability to perform well on special teams will play a key part in the determination as to who wins in that competition.
But in terms of getting an opportunity to tote the rock for the Packers as a rookie in a combination with Montgomery, Williams looks to be the guy.
Williams, who will wear No. 30, hopes that he will have similar success as the last two backs who wore that number for the Packers, John Kuhn and Ahman Green.
In his career with the Packers as a fullback, Kuhn rushed for 601 yards and 15 touchdowns, plus caught 81 passes for 557 yards and eight more scores. Kuhn was also named to three Pro Bowl squads and also was named first-team All-Pro once and second-team All-Pro once.
Green is the all-time leading rusher in Green Bay history, as he rushed for 8,322 yards, plus scored 54 rushing touchdowns as a tailback. Plus, Green also caught 350 passes for 2,726 yards and 14 more scores. The former Nebraska Cornhusker was also named to four Pro Bowl squads and was named second-team All-Pro once.
If Williams even comes close to the production of Kuhn and Green, not to mention the awards that they both received, the Packers will be more than pleased that they selected the former Cougar in the 2017 NFL draft.
Bob Fox is a freelance writer who has his own blog at WordPress. Bob has also written for Packer Report, where he was for several years, as well as writing at sites like Bleacher Report, where he was a Featured Columnist for three and a half years.