FOCUS ON…….The Green Bay Backfield
Last season, we all expected Aaron Jones to dominate the Green Bay backfield. Coming off back to back 1,000 yard seasons, with a new contract, he was primed for another dominant RB1 performance. AJ Dillon had other ideas. His increasing role and Jones’ MCL injury altered the backfield, changing what we thought it would be in 2021.
Let’s break down how these players were utilised in 2021. What might it tell us about what the Green Bay backfield will look like in 2022, and the fantasy outlook of these players?
Over the course of the season, Aaron Jones maintained a higher snap percentage and opportunity share than Dillon, but only just. Dillon led in rush attempts and rushing touchdowns, but we must remember that Jones missed a game with injury. In this game, Dillon had a workhorse role – a snap percentage of 76% and most of the RB touches. So what did the stats look like when both players were on the field?
In the 15 games where the backfield was shared, Jones had more opportunities and rush attempts. But Dillon still had more rushing touchdowns. It’s clear Dillon was trusted enough to take goal line work away from Jones.
When it came to receiving, Jones had the advantage. He had twice as many targets as Dillon, resulting in seven receiving touchdowns compared to Dillon’s two.
Remember, Aaron Jones suffered an MCL sprain in week 10, causing him to miss week 11. He returned in week 12, but production and usage were likely impacted, giving AJ Dillon more opportunity.
Let’s have a look:
Jones started the season as the primary Running Back (apart from week 1, which was a total disaster for Green Bay, who collapsed to a 38-3 loss to the Jameis Winston led Saints). In week 2 and 3, he had an opportunity share of over 70%. This dominance was short lived, as Dillon saw an increase in snap and opportunity share from week 4. This resulted in an inevitable decrease in opportunity share for Jones (<60% through to his injury in week 10).
After week 3, Aaron Jones had 15 or fewer rush attempts per game due to reduced opportunity share. AJ Dillon’s rush attempts were variable, but they were enough to cap Jones.
Following Jones’ injury in week 10, AJ Dillon had a marked increase in snap share, opportunity share, and rush attempts. Jones was only out for one week, but his snaps were limited through to week 15. In week 15 and 16, Jones returned to having the higher snap and opportunity share. However, Dillon still had over 35% of the rush attempts, maintaining a significant role in the backfield.
As I mentioned earlier, AJ Dillon had more rushing touchdowns than Aaron Jones in 2021. Opportunities to score touchdowns dramatically increase with more red zone work. Let’s look at how the red zone carries were split between the two players:
Aaron Jones dominated the red zone attempts during the first four weeks of the season, and saw more attempts than AJ Dillon until his injury in week 10. Naturally, Dillon took over the red zone work whilst Jones was recovering. Interestingly, it appears he kept the job until the end of the season. This was despite Jones having more rush attempts in weeks 15 and 16.
Over the course of the 2021 season, the Green Bay backfield transformed from being dominated by Aaron Jones to more of a 1a/1b split. Aaron Jones is unlikely to return to dominance in 2022 following AJ Dillon’s strong performance over the second half of the season. However, Jones should retain the higher snap and opportunity share, as well as most of the receiving work. Dillon will likely have fewer touches, but there is evidence he can be trusted in the red zone. These opportunities will likely continue, giving him some upside with potential touchdown opportunities.
As with any shared backfield, both players eat into the fantasy production of the other. Aaron Jones should be the more productive fantasy asset, as he will likely have a higher opportunity share than Dillon. He won’t be an RB1 as in previous years, but likely a mid range RB2. He will handle most of the receiving work, so will have more value in PPR leagues (high end RB2). AJ Dillon will have fewer opportunities for fantasy production than Jones, making him a high end RB3. However, his work in the red zone brings him touchdown upside. Both players are talented running backs, so if an injury occurs, the other will take a work-horse role. This will push them into the RB1 conversation for the duration of this time.
Final Fantasy Focus?
Both of these players could be valuable additions to your fantasy team in 2022, but it’s important to temper expectations. Expecting Aaron Jones to be the RB1 of seasons past will invariably lead to disappointment. Even so, his receiving work make him a reliable low end starter in PPR leagues. Dillon may not be consistent enough to be a weekly starter, but he has massive upside should Aaron Jones again suffer an injury. This alone makes him worthy of a place on your bench.