When thinking about the concept of positional value, running back is at the forefront of the discussion. Outside of the bonafide studs equipped with exorbitant price tags, the position opens up considerably. Among the running backs in the wide open tier, a handful rise to fantasy relevancy each season. In this series of articles, we’ll examine and try to identify running backs on the rise. To be clear, these running backs are not guaranteed to succeed. However, one of our goals in fantasy football is to obtain undervalued, young assets prior to inflection points in their career. Successfully doing so enables us to either capitalize on an increase in value via trade or statistical production. This edition of Running Backs on the Rise will take a look at Packers’ sophomore running back A.J. Dillon.
For those interested, the previous article in this series can be found here: Running Backs on the Rise: Anthony McFarland Jr..
A.J. Dillon’s on the rise as several upcoming catalysts in his young career begin to materialize. Dillon became a household name in the fantasy community when the Packers made the surprising decision to select him 62nd overall (2/30) in the 2020 draft. Within the dynasty community, it was his exceptional combine performance that truly put him on the map. There, he recorded 97th-percentile SPARQ adjusted athleticism.
Dillon is an impressive blend of size and speed, sporting a 96th-percentile BMI at 6’4”, 247 lbs. Prior to being drafted, he was the focal point of the Boston College offense from 2017-2019. While there, he posted the following totals.
Given Boston College’s mediocrity over that span, Dillon’s production is quite noteworthy. Perhaps his most inspiring statistic, Dillon eclipsed 150 rushing yards in over 40% of his starts.
Entering the draft, Dillon’s primary weaknesses were: a lack of passing game involvement, questions about durability due to usage, agility and creativity.
Expectations for Dillon’s rookie season were appropriately set low with incumbents Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams still in town. As a result of their presence and a positive COVID test, Dillon appeared in just 11 games as a rookie. He was able to contribute meaningfully in his limited action.
Dillon never received more than 5 carries in a game until the late stages of the regular season. In Week 16 against the Titans, he turned 21 carries into 124 yards and 2 touchdowns. Importantly, Dillon was trusted and called upon by the coaching staff to handle several touches in both of the Packers postseason games.
Although there’s not a ton of it, the tape from Dillon’s rookie season was very encouraging.
As we turn our sights to the future, it’s hard not to be enamored with Dillon’s fantasy potential. With numerous catalysts, one looms larger than the rest. Both Jones and Williams are headed to unrestricted free agency and there’s a strong possibility Dillon enters next season as the Packers starting running back. If that comes to fruition, Dillon immediately becomes an RB 2 with immense touchdown upside. However, if the Packers retain one of Jones or Williams, Dillon will still benefit from a larger role as half of a committee. What’s increasingly likely, is that Jones departs and Williams is retained. In that event, Dillon would form the 1A portion of the committee and handle the majority of goal line work. As evidenced by Jones’ 25 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, that’s an extremely valuable role. Regardless of what the offseason brings, you can expect Dillon to have a much larger role in 2021.
Next, Dillon looked very good during limited action as a rookie. This season, he’ll benefit from a more normal and complete offseason. As a result, a step forward in his development should not only be anticipated, but expected. Moreover, there’s hope that the Packers are able to get Dillon involved in the passing game next year. Rodgers’ willingness to utilize his previous running backs in the passing game bodes well for this aspiration. If Dillon is able to add a few receptions to his weekly output, it will go a long way towards making him an RB 1 candidate.
Finally, Dillon’s high draft capital relative to his position all but assures he’s in the Packers plans for the next few years. With a skill set tailor made for Lambeau Field, you can expect the coaching staff to play to his strengths. Of course, there’s also the bonus of being the lead back on an Aaron Rodgers led offense. Without overthinking it, it’s one of the best possible situations in fantasy football.
With a range of possible outcomes, what should we expect from Dillon as he enters his sophomore season? First, it would be prudent for Dillon owners and speculators to closely monitor free agency. If Dillon is anointed the 2021 starter with little in-house competition, his value will take another sizable leap. When projecting his fantasy production in that situation, Dillon would profile as a Weekly RB 2 with RB 1 upside. Thankfully, the worst case (and more unlikely) scenario would be Dillon forming a committee with Jones. If that were to materialize, it would surely take some froth out of Dillon’s stock in the near term. Additionally, it would demote Dillon to the RB 3/FLEX ranks. As it stands, there’s a ton of positive asymmetry in Dillon’s risk/reward profile, making him an attractive acquisition target for running back needy owners.
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