Packers add depth with running back AJ Dillon, tight end Josiah Deguara
GREEN BAY - A night after using his lone fourth-round selection to move up four spots in the first round to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst had to sit tight at No. 62 overall in the second round and No. 94 in the third before adding offensive skill players to help the 2020 team.
Beginning in the second round, 13 wide receivers and five running backs had come off the board when Gutekunst turned in his card for Boston College running back AJ Dillon. Then with their third-round pick the Packers picked Cincinnati tight end Josiah Deguara — two moves that help the offense but perhaps emphasize the run game that coach Matt LaFleur favors.
“I think Matt certainly wants to the run the ball; I think he’s talked repeatedly about how much he’d like to run the ball and have the pass work off of that,” Gutekunst said in a conference call late Friday night. “I think as we went through, we wanted to have some versatile pieces.
“Matt really wants to tie everything to the run game and off the run game, and these guys will help us do that.
Dillon measured in at the NFL scouting combine at 6-feet and 247 pounds and clocked a 4.53-second 40-yard dash. He also had a 41-inch vertical leap and 131-inch broad jump.
Dillon, whose full name is Algiers Jameal (AJ), rushed for 4,382 yards on 845 carries over three seasons in college. He scored 38 touchdowns on the ground.
“I’d say I’m for sure an all-purpose back, somebody who can everything — run the ball, catch and obviously protect the quarterback,” Dillon said in a conference call Friday night. “I feel like I’m blessed with the size and strength that I do have so it’s definitely one of my strengths. So my ability to do that and be able to move people and still have the speed that I do, I feel like I can help the Packers a lot.”
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He caught only 21 passes in his career, but the Packers feel that was an underutilized part of his game while in college.
“You know what’s surprising is you might not see it much during the games but you go to practice, you see him running routes and catching the football,” Packers Northeast region scout Mike Owen said. “He’s got real good hands. He went to the combine and showed the same thing. I think his receiving game is actually further along than you might believe and I think that’s just an added element to his game.”
A true workhorse tailback, Dillon elected to skip Boston College’s bowl game after earning third-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-ACC honors.
“I think in our offense there’s probably a little bit more room for his creativity than what he did at Boston College and a lot more in the passing game,” Gutekunst said. “As we went through the process in the spring, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was something that, again, he didn’t do a lot of that at Boston College but it was something that really attracted us.”
LaFleur said his offense could use another running back to go with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, and Dillon gives the play-caller a change-of-pace big back — yet one who can still break long runs.
“It’s such a long season, and those guys take on a ton of punishment,” LaFleur said at the combine in late February. “I think that’s one of the more tougher positions to play in terms of physicality, and I think you always need multiple guys to get to that finish line. Certainly we’d like to play one more game than we did last season, and we’re going to need not only those two guys but I do think we’re going to need a third guy to put into that mix moving forward.”
With Jones and Williams entering the final years of their contracts, Dillon also gives the Packers needed depth at the position looking ahead. He is the team's highest-drafted running back since Eddie Lacy was picked No. 61 overall in 2013.
“I’m not necessarily surprised,” Dillon said. “I always believed in my ability and what I can do as well as the people that supported me. But I’m obviously excited for the opportunity.”
The 6-foot, 2-inch, 242-pound Deguara ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and in his senior season with the Bearcats he caught 39 balls for 504 yards and seven touchdowns. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein and the Pro Football Focus draft experts feel the tight end can fill more of an H-back role, moving in and out of the backfield but also being able to block and release into routes in-line.
“There really wasn’t a position that I didn’t play on offense,” Deguara said. “I played a little slot receiver. I played a little in-line tight end. I was off the ball. I was in the backfield. I did a lot of different things and I think that helped me a lot throughout this process and I think it shows my versatility in this game.”
Noticeably absent from the Packers' draft list through the first two nights of the draft is a wide receiver. Six were taken in the first round Thursday night and seven more were taken before the Packers were on the clock in the second round.
Another four went before the Packers’ pick in the third round.
Before the draft, Gutekunst hinted that he may not wait long to pick a receiver, but as the draft flipped to day three, he still hadn't.
“We looked at some things to see if it was possible (to move up),” Gutekunst said. “But it was going to involve next year’s picks because of just where we were sitting and the value of everything. But we also felt good about the board and we felt that we were going to be able to get a good player if we picked at 62. So that’s kind of how it transpired. There weren’t a lot of great options to move up to where we needed to get to get the kind of players we would have wanted if we had the opportunity to do that.”