GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike Zimmer got his running back, the one he needed to find in the draft last spring, early in the second round.
But if the Minnesota Vikings hadn’t landed Dalvin Cook at No. 41 overall, there was a chance he could have snagged one of the two running backs the Green Bay Packers took, or possibly even both Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.
“They’re both guys we liked coming out of the draft, both of them,” Zimmer said this week. “I think Williams does a nice job of getting vertical. He’s big and fast. And then Jones is a guy that we also really liked. He’s a good gun-runner, catches the ball well out of the backfield, good cut-back runner. But yeah, we liked both of them actually.”
Cook was off to a strong start before he tore his left ACL in Week 4. He was third in the NFL in rushing yards (354) at the time, behind only Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley, who currently rank second and third in the league, respectively, with two games to play.
If Cook returns to form next season, the Vikings could have the long-term replacement for Adrian Peterson that they sought.
The Packers should feel at ease with their running back situation, too.
For all the holes they have this season -- from pass-rusher to cornerback on defense, from tight end to tackle (and perhaps even receiver) on offense -- they’re well-stocked in the backfield with Williams and Jones. Williams, a third-round pick from BYU, has been the workhorse back, with a team-high 116 carries, while Jones, a fourth-round pick from UTEP, has been more explosive, with a team-high 435 yards on just 78 carries. Each has four running touchdowns, while Williams also has two receiving touchdowns.
“I think we found the future at running back now,” Packers guard Lane Taylor said. “Obviously, those guys have three more years here, so running back is going to be a promising position for us going forward.”
If either Ty Montgomery, who is on injured reserve after wrist surgery, or the third back the Packers drafted, seventh-round pick Devante Mays, comes back strong next year, the Packers could be even deeper at running back.
“You have three [rookie] backs, two in particular that have been extremely productive,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “Those two young men, without a doubt, have earned some opportunities, and they’ve made the most of their opportunities. But we feel good about the situation of having those three guys in that meeting room and continue to learn and grow and get better so that they continue to improve. That’s the goal: You want to continue to improve. And I think those three guys are certainly headed in that direction.”
If the Packers feel strongly enough about the three rookie running backs, it could mean the end of the Montgomery experiment at running back. There are those in the organization who think he would be better served by moving back to receiver, especially if the Packers move on from either high-priced veteran, Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson, or both.
For now, though, it’s the Williams and Jones show. The two have traded off weeks as the starter, in large part because of injuries. Both appear healthy heading into Saturday’s second-to-last game of the season against the Vikings.
“My body’s good. Surprisingly,” Williams said this week. “I for sure thought I’d be dead, shot and sore everywhere. But actually, I feel good. I feel ready to play.”
Nevertheless, it’s possible Jones could see more of the work, given his production Sunday at Carolina. Although he carried just three times, he finished with 47 yards thanks to runs of 20 and 23 yards in the first half.
Now, if the Packers had only fixed the rest of their roster like they did the running back position, perhaps they wouldn’t just be playing out the string in these final two games.