One of Jackson Browne’s hit songs was “Running on Empty.”
The Green Bay Packers’ running backs depth chart isn’t running on empty in terms of talent. It is running almost empty in terms of experience.
The Packers’ backfield is the greenest in the NFL. Ty Montgomery, who is entering his third NFL season but has less than one year of experience at running back, has 80 career carries. Montgomery is surrounded in position coach Ben Sirmans’ running backs room by rookies, with fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams of BYU, fifth-round pick Aaron Jones of UTEP, seventh-round pick Devante Mays of Utah State and undrafted rookie Kalif Phillips of Charlotte.
“It’s a unique challenge,” coach Mike McCarthy said at the team’s rookie orientation camp on Friday. “I think you can look at it from both sides of the perspective. Obviously, inexperience is very high. Ty Montgomery is your veteran halfback and he made the transition last year. You look at (fullback Aaron) Ripkowski and the importance he’s going to play in that room.”
The flip side is there will be a heated battle to join Montgomery on the Week 1 depth chart. If Green Bay takes three running backs onto the regular-season roster, the aforementioned four rookies will be battling for two jobs.
“That’s unique,” McCarthy said. “That’s something that will stick with those guys particularly this year. That’s something you can build off. That motivation in the room, that’s not normal. I think that will be a benefit.”
Williams enters the battle as the most well-rounded of the bunch. The 6-foot, 212-pounder not only finished his career as BYU’s all-time leading rusher, but he’s shown he can catch the ball (27 receptions as a freshman), pass protect (16th in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-blocking metric among backs with at least 60 pass-protection snaps in 2016) and protect the football (five career fumbles).
“It’s just making everybody better,” Williams said on Friday of the rookie backfield battle. “Puts us in a great environment where it’s still competitive. At the same time, we’re all working with each other to make sure we’re all pushing each other.
At 5-foot-9 1/2, Jones will add a new look to the Packers’ backfield as the shortest running back drafted by Ted Thompson. Despite missing most of the 2015 season with an ankle injury, Jones is UTEP’s career rushing leader with 4,114 yards. He had two seasons of at least 28 receptions but ranked toward the bottom of PFF’s pass-protection metric. He and Williams, who share the same agent, are roommates.
“It definitely helps that we both moved into a new place (and) we’ve got each other,” Jones said. “This is my first time being away from my brother so in turn I got him. It definitely helps and I’m going to help him out. We’re going to be there for each other.”
At 230 pounds, Mays fits the Packers’ traditional big-back mold. After rushing for almost 1,000 yards as a junior at Utah State – his first season after spending two years at junior college – he topped 200 yards in the 2016 opener. However, Mays suffered a knee injury the following week against USC and was a nonfactor the rest of the season. With only two catches in two years, he’ll have to show he can handle the passing game.
“It was cool just being able to come out here and wear this,” Mays said. “It’s a blessing. It’s a dream come true. It’s really cool.”
The under-the-radar rookie is the undrafted Phillips (5-9, 218). In four seasons, he rushed for school records of 4,025 yards and 41 touchdowns, including 1,441 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore. He caught a career-high 20 passes for 242 yards to go with 907 rushing yards as a senior. According to Pro Football Focus, he averaged 3.78 yards after contact, which ranked ninth among running backs in this draft class, and was 12th in pass protection.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.