The Packers have been one of the busiest teams this offseason. They did not waste any time during free agency and signed multiple defensive playmakers in Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Adrian Amos, who will help bolster the struggling unit from last season.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was much quieter.
Many were expecting the Packers to target some skill position players in free agency or the draft to help electrify a surprisingly lackluster offense in 2018. The Packers decided to trust the young corp of receivers, but added RB Dexter Williams and TE Jace Sternberger in the 2019 draft, and strengthened their offensive line by signing free agent RG Billy Turner.
The Packers are trusting that their new offensive system under first-time head coach Matt LaFleur will spark life into this offensive unit, which was lackluster last season. With a new head coach and Aaron Rodgers under center, that is not a farfetched idea to have, but the Packers are still missing a key piece for Matt LaFleur. The Packers need to find a receiving back which Matt LaFleur used so well in previous coaching positions.
Matt LaFleur was an offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and the Tennessee Titans. During his time with these teams, LaFleur used his running backs in different ways to keep the defense guessing. In 2017, Todd Gurley was targeted 87 times, catching 64 of them for 788 yards. Cooper Kupp only had more targets and yards than Todd Gurley that season. When we look at the Titans in 2018, we see a very similar situation. LaFleur took a similar game plan with him to Tennessee and used his running backs the same as he did in Los Angeles. He did not have the same caliber running back as he did in Todd Gurley, but he used Derrick Henry heavily in the run game and Dion Lewis led the passing attack out of the backfield. Dion Lewis was targeted 65 times and had 400 yards receiving in 2018. Lewis was second in receptions and third in yards for the Titans last season.
Comparing the Todd Gurley’s and Dion Lewis’ numbers to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams this offseason, we see there is huge room for improvement for the Green Bay offense this year. Todd Gurley had the same amount of targets and almost double the receiving yards in 2017 than Jones and Williams combined in 2018. Aaron Jones was targeted 35 times and managed 206 yards while Jamaal Wiliams had 41 targets for 210 yards.
The Packers’ offense last season struggled in almost every area but especially when it came to yards out of the backfield. Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones ranked 34th and 37th in receiving yards for RBs and FBs last season. The Chargers, Broncos, and Bengals, all had two running backs on the list before Jamaal Williams at 34th. The lack of production could easily be put on Mike McCarthy and the offensive system he implemented, but it cannot be denied the Packers need help in this area.
More targets for Jones and Wiliams should result in more production, but adding a Dion Lewis or James White type of running back will give the Packers more of the production they need. Christian McCaffrey, James White, and Tarik Cohen, led all of the running backs in receiving yards this past season. Two of those running backs, James White and Tarik Cohen, are specialty running backs. They are mostly used as weapons in the passing game and add a dynamic to the game that defenses need to adjust too. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are both talented running backs, but they lack the ability in the passing game that would cause defenses to adjust.
Looking at options for the Packers to add a receiving back to their roster, Three players stand out. The first player the Packers should take a look at is Jacquizz Rodgers. He is currently a free agent, and last season with the Buccaneers he had 37 receptions for 301 yards. Both of those numbers would have led the Packers last season. He would give the Packers a player who knows their role and could provide a spark in the passings game.
The second player that should be on the Packer’s radar is Wendell Smallwood. Smallwood was one of the many Philadelphia Eagles running backs last season. The Eagles struggled to find a solid run game behind Ajayi, Smallwood, Corey Clement, and an injured Darren Sproles. He made the most of his opportunities with 28 receptions on 35 targets for 230 yards. He would have led the Packers backfield in yards even though he had seven fewer targets than Williams and one less than Jones.
Smallwood is currently under contract with the Eagles, but in a crowded backfield that signed Jordan Howard, resigned Darren Sproles, and drafted Miles Sanders in the second round, Smallwood is likely closer to being released during training camp than remaining with the team. Smallwood would make an immediate impact in the Packers’ backfield. He ran his a 4.47 40 yard dash compared to Aaron Jones 4.56 and Williams 4.59. He would bring speed the Packers desperately need. The Packers should look to bring him in if he is released, but if he makes the team, the asking price would not be high for a fourth or possibly fifth string running back.
The final player the Packers should consider in Duke Johnson. Johnson has expressed his interest in leaving Cleveland, and the Packers would be the perfect destination for him. He is a weapon in the running game, but especially in the passing game. Last season Johnson had 47 receptions for 429 yards and had to be accounted for every time he stepped on the field. Not only did Johnson come out of the backfield, but he also has experience lining up in the slot which is another area of need for the Packers. If the asking price is right, the Packers could fill the void that Randall Cobb left as the swiss army knife of the offense.
The Packers look to rebound from a disappointing 2018 season. The additions to the team have moved them in the right direction, and adding a receiving back will help the Packers get back to the former dominance they had just a few seasons ago.