After a close loss in Pittsburgh, the Packers look to rebound against the Buccaneers at Lambeau Field. The 5-6 Packers need a victory to plausibly remain in playoff contention, and though the 4-7 Buccaneers have little playoff hopes, they are coming off a 2-1 record the last three games and Jameis Winston will return from a shoulder injury. To get the win, the Packers will need to rely on a gritty run game. It’s true Brett Hundley and the defense have shown improvement—at the very least, the ability to not be a liability. But without an adequate rushing attack, that won’t last for long.

Unfortunately, the Packers have limited options in their backfield entering week 13. Ty Montgomery has been placed on injured reserve, and Devante Mays has done nothing to earn the coaches’ trust after two fumbles (one lost), in three carries against the Ravens. Aaron Jones is expected to play against the Bucs, but he likely won’t see much action as the Packers ease him in after a sprained MCL. Aaron Ripkowski is a competent runner and receiver out of the backfield, but he doesn’t have the agility to be seeing 20+ touches in a game. Jamaal Williams will have to continue as the workhorse back for now to give the Packers the best chance to succeed.

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Williams has only gotten significant action in the last three games, but each time he’s shown consistency and an ability to grind out tough yards. His numbers were remarkably similar each time—20, 18, and 21 carries for 67, 57, and 66 yards. He reminds me of Jonathan Stewart, a guy who is almost guaranteed to get 60 yards if you give him 20 carries. Also like Stewart, Williams has also shown surprisingly good hands (9 receptions for 114 yards in the last three games). Williams also has a knack for finding the end zone, notching a touchdown both on the ground and through the air against the Steelers.

While Williams was thought of as a downhill, one-cut runner during the draft, he’s shown plenty of upside beyond just a short-yardage back. He’s shown proficiency in pass protection and as a receiver, necessary traits for an every-down running back. His vision has seemingly improved since the start of the season, which isn’t surprising for a rookie. And the way he bursts through holes demonstrates why he needs to carry the ball over Ripkowski.

He’s also as effective in short yardage as advertised. He is a decisive runner, and just like at BYU he has displayed a talent for grinding out yards after contact. There were many times he turned what seemed like a loss of yards into a small gain. And he looks downright dangerous in the red zone. Watch him punch in this four-yard touchdown.

Now, as promising as Williams’ performances have been, it’s far too early to anoint him the long-term starter. There have been moments when Williams slams into a wall that Aaron Jones might have been able to cut past. There have been lapses in pass protection, though those will happen with most rookie running backs. He is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry on the season, though many of his yards come after contact. But we have seen enough of him to be excited for his future, especially if he forms an effective thunder-and-lightning tandem with Aaron Jones.


 

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