Pre-Camp Preview: Running Backs

This is the second in a series of position-by-position previews of the Green Bay Packers following the OTAs and minicamps. Training camp begins on July 26.

JOEL BOUAGNON – His college tape is so impressive you wonder how the former Northern Illinois star went undrafted in 2017 – until you check out his 40 time (4.66). Still, there should be a place in the National Football League for a 230-pound back with quick feet and terrific vision. Whether that place is in Green Bay remains to be seen, but considering the depth at the position, it appears unlikely. That means Bouagnon, who was the first player signed by GM Brian Gutekunst, will probably wind up being nothing more than an interesting footnote in franchise history.

AARON JONES – If the former UTEP star can stay healthy – something he wasn’t able to do either in college or as a rookie last season – the offense will finally have the dynamic running back it’s been missing for the better part of the past decade and a half. Jones averaged 5.5 yards on 81 electrifying carries in 2017 and showed a rare ability to make tacklers miss at the line of scrimmage. And while his 40 time isn’t all that impressive (4.5+), he’s one of those players who simply won’t allow himself to get chased down from behind in the open field. Whether he’ll be The Man or just a useful part of a rotation in 2018 will be determined by his ability to hold up in pass protection – a skill that was inconsistent a year ago.

JOE KERRIDGE – The 245-pound former Wolverine has ended the past two seasons on the active roster after being promoted from the practice squad. Will this be the year he finally makes the 53 out of training camp? It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Kerridge isn’t quite as athletic as starter Aaron Ripkowski, but he’s a more physical lead blocker and he’s at least as good on special teams. That hasn’t been enough to unseat the former draft pick in the past. We’ll soon find out whether having a new face in the GM seat will make a difference.

DEVANTE MAYS – The former Utah State star flashed at times last summer, but the only thing that stood out about his rookie season was an¬†inability to hold onto the football. Mays fumbled on his first two carries in week 11 against Baltimore and wasn’t heard from again until the meaningless season finale against Detroit. While the coaching staff still seems intrigued by the physical 230-pounder, I see little to get excited about. In fact. Bouagnon’s college tape and his 2017 preseason with the Bears were more impressive.

TY MONTGOMERY – The fourth-year pro isn’t durable enough to be a No. 1 runner or gifted enough to be a starting caliber receiver, but a coach with a creative mind should be able to figure out ways to take advantage of his unique skill set. Perhaps “new” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin will be that guy. Montgomery doesn’t have the explosiveness to do what Darren Sproles does on short passes out of the backfield, but he’d be a nightmare for linebackers to cover down the seam or on wheel routes. The only things that kept No. 88 from being a real weapon the past three seasons have been injuries and Mike McCarthy.

AARON RIPKOWSKI – Signing veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis shows the Packers are serious about running the ball more consistently in 2018, so maybe it’s time to find a better fullback. Ripkowski, a former fifth-round draft pick from Oklahoma, has been adequate the past three seasons, but it’s pretty obvious he’ll never be an aggressive isolation lead-blocker or a true hammer in the run game. What Ripkowski does better than most fullbacks is run and catch the ball. That obviously appeals to McCarthy. It’ll be very interesting to see if it appeals as much to Gutekunst, who may put a higher emphasis on strength and physicality.

JAMAAL WILLIAMS – There are two things a No. 1 running back needs to do in today’s NFL – average well over four yards per carry and force defenses to at least consider keeping an extra man in the box. It’s hard to imagine the former BYU star doing either, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy a long and productive career. Think of the 23-year-old as a slightly more reliable and a slightly less explosive version of James Starks, who gained over 2,500 yards in seven seasons (2010 – 2016) with the Packers. Williams is probably capable of doing more, but even that wouldn’t be a bad investment on a fourth-round draft pick.

Overall analysis – Gutekunst added only one new face to this group since January, and that player was a former undrafted free agent who was cut by the Bears last summer. It’s like he thinks the top four running backs on the depth chart are Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara. They’re not. Only Jones has true No. 1 skills, and he’s missed a combined 14 games in the past three seasons. This is a solid young group, but it’s nowhere near good enough to eschew adding talent and competition in the offseason.

Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for over 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2004. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey and covered the Philadelphia Eagles for WTXF-TV. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published, and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.

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