The biggest running back name on the free-agent market technically never ended up making it to the market. Aaron Jones announced he was re-signing with the Packers before free agency even opened Sunday night, agreeing to a four-year contract worth $48 million to stay with the franchise that has made him one of the best Fantasy running backs in the league over the past few seasons.
Jones was the top running back on the market, and this price seems pretty cheap given that. His agent Drew Rosenhaus said as much in announcing the signing, saying "Aaron would have signed for more in free agency but wanted to stay in Green Bay." That's all well and good for Jones, and it will surely endear him to Packers fans, but it's not at all what Fantasy players wanted to see. While it's great for Jones' value -- he ranked fourth in Fantasy points per game in 2020 and 2019 among running backs in PPR -- he hasn't exactly been a workhorse. He was 15th in carries and 14th in receptions in 16 games in 2019 and 10th and 11th in 2020 in 14 games.
Of course, he makes up for a somewhat limited workload by an incredibly efficient profile, averaging at least 5.5 yards per carry and scoring 30 touchdowns in his past 30 games. He should continue to be the lead back in Green Bay, and should continue to be quite efficient and effective as a result -- I've got him as a RB8 in my early PPR rankings. But this definitely holds back the potential of AJ Dillon, one of our potential favorite early breakout candidates.
Dillon was essentially a non-factor for much of his rookie season, with five or fewer carries in all but one of his 11 games. The one exception? A 21-carry, 124-yard, two-touchdown game in Week 16. Dillon is big and fast, and could be a touchdown machine playing in an offense with Aaron Rodgers leading the way, but it's hard to see him getting enough of a role to be worth starting now that Jones is back.
Over the past two seasons, Jones and Jamaal Williams have combined for 418 and 456 carries-plus-targets in each season. Williams is a free agent, and you have to assume the Packers will let him walk after re-signing Jones and spending a second-round pick on Dillon last year, so that theoretically clears a path to a significant role for Dillon in 2021 and beyond. However, Dillon had just two targets last season, and caught a whopping 21 passes in three full seasons in college. That doesn't mean he can't be a factor in the passing game, but you have to assume he won't just step right into Williams' role because Williams had 80 targets over the past two seasons.
That means Dillon is probably looking at a role where he is the No. 2 running back, averaging 8-10 carries per game, and you're hoping for two targets per game. He'll be an incredibly valuable handcuff, and it's possible he ends up averaging 40-50 rushing yards per game with a good chance for a touchdown and can be a viable flex option even in PPR leagues. But as long as Jones is healthy, Dillon probably has a cap on how much value he can bring to the table unless he can be a much better pass catcher than we've ever seen.
That also means a Jones-Dillon combination might make Jones even more valuable, because he could take on an even larger role in the passing game if Williams leaves. If he stays in the 13-15 carry-per-game range and gets to 60-plus catches, Jones should remain an elite Fantasy option even if Dillon vultures a touchdown here and there.
Of course, if Williams comes back, Dillon may not even be worth drafting at all. Let's hope that doesn't happen, and let's hope Williams ends up somewhere like the Jets or Steelers where he could find a potentially valuable role of his own. Williams isn't a star, but he has value in both facets of the game, and could be a Fantasy starter in his own right if he ends up in the right spot.
Green Bay is the right spot for Jones, even if it isn't necessarily what we wanted to see for Fantasy. Dillon will remain an incredibly intriguing prospect, one some Fantasy owners will still look for in the first six rounds on Draft Day, potentially. But he'll have the odds stacked against him, while Jones should be a borderline first-round pick in all drafts. That much is certain.