- School: Boston College
- Year: Junior (21.9)
- Position: Running Back
Measurements: 6’-0”, 247 || (hand 9 ⅝) (arm 31 ⅝)
Combine: 40yd 4.6 sec || Bench: 22 reps || Vertical 41.0” || Broad Jump 131.0” || 3cone 7.19 sec
AJ Dillon was a well-regarded recruit out of Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts. He was initially committed to the University of Michigan then changed his commitment to Boston College. He was a productive highschool player that ran a sub 4.6 as a recruit and was already a big strong athlete going into college. He had offers from over a dozen big-name schools, including Notre Dame, Florida State, and Wisconsin. A lot was expected of him as a collegiate athlete – and while many may nitpick him as an NFL prospect, he certainly delivered on his hype at the collegiate level.
Dillon came out of the gates strong his Freshman year, amassing nearly 1600 yards and 14 TDs in his 13 games. If anything could be said about Dillon, it’s that he was consistent. While you may look at the raw totals and see a dip his sophomore season, an ankle injury robbed him of 3 games. However, his pace was right on target for what he had done his entire career, over 100 yards a game with a steady workload of 20+ carries on respectable 5ypc with a touchdown per game. In his sophomore season, he started to catch the ball a bit more, and he improved on his receiving efficiency in his final year as a junior.
Two 1500 yard seasons – let alone a prospect on pace to hit that mark all three years – is generally a name you would have pretty high on a draft board. However, digging into the stats, you see how heavily volume-based his production was; some might even call him an “accumulator,” racking up stats because he was fed the ball. The connotation there being, he may not be as special of a player as the raw counting stats indicate. Another flag to pay attention to 21 total catches in his collegiate career. His last year, he still only caught the ball 13 times. Often, this stat may be misleading as not all college schemes utilize the running back in that manner, so we will still have to take this to the film room and see what he offers on those limited reps.
Film analysis is from the Dynasty Prospect Film Room, with 2019 tape against Louisville, Clemson, and Florida State. I also factored in the 2018 games against Virginia Tech and Clemson, to see if Dillon had shown growth year to year.
Dillon was one of the more difficult running backs for me to evaluate on film. He gets comps to players like Derrick Henry and Jordan Howard, but I think he is a complete throwback to the times of guys like Walter Payton (stylistically speaking that is). What made evaluating AJ Dillon most difficult is that on my first run-through, he looked like a rumbling bull with uncontrolled wild movement barrelling through the defense. Many of Dillon’s runs seem to look like this, bouncing around with feet and legs going all over the place.
Dillon gets the Henry comps both because of his physical nature, but he shares the lack of cutting ability as well. Here is a “six step stop” as he tries to cut back downhill
One more thing that drove me nuts with Dillon was his propensity to get stopped dead in his tracks. This occurs because Dillon is a big body running upright and presents a big target to hit.
But, the more you dig into the tape on Dillon, the more you see that he shows some very adept footwork, especially behind the line of scrimmage. While Dillon may not be able to stop his momentum quickly, that also means defenders will have to contend with slowing him down. And as you dig further into the tape, Dillon shows the ability to redirect his motion away from oncoming problems adeptly. In this particular clip, watch how his eyes recognize the interior penetration even before he gets handed the ball. He immediately is prepping on his next move: watch him take an abbreviated step with the left to plant and drive. What makes this movement possible, though, is how he points his right foot 90 degrees directly toward the sideline. In essence, this is what allows for the sharp lateral movement to sidestep the blitz and push through the hole to the vacated area.
Yes, that play only got three yards, but it’s the solution in his movement toolbox that impressed me here. Running backs that are over 240 pounds don’t often have the dexterity to enable this movement solution; Derrick Henry doesn’t, but AJ Dillon does.
I liked watching his tape against Clemson because that is as close to an NFL defense a running back will face, loaded with multiple first-round talents. This was also his 2018 tape, and when I started going further into 2019 film, I realized that there was more and more evidence of refined movement from him that you see in the last clip there. It became a lot harder to find plays I didn’t like.
Besides churning forward through a mob of would-be tacklers, the other AJ Dillon “signature move” is his spin move. It’s less of an evasive maneuver, and more a way to move through the contact and use the collision in a way that enables him to keep his balance through to the other side. Here’s him against Clemson one year later:
And to show off his improved footwork from his sophomore to his junior year, this sequence of two plays shows how he’s able to bend around pressure and efficiently cut up through the line of scrimmage for a decent gain on a play the offensive line did him no favors. He follows that up the next play with a mid-stride adjustment in the hole to get past linebackers and into the third level.
I like the way Dillon finishes runs. I also think he deserves a little more praise; his ability to handle pressure behind the line of scrimmage and some surprisingly refined footwork makes him much more than just a “plodder.” He was used more often on third downs his last year at Boston College, showing a good understanding of pass blocking concepts and the ability to stop his man effectively, but also because he could serve as an outlet leaking out to the flat. I think he’s going to be a much more valuable NFL player than fantasy asset though. Even with his fast combine 40 time, he didn’t demonstrate breakaway speed that is going to translate to the next level. He is not elusive the way a guy like Swift is either. And he’s not going to have more than a handful of catches. He’ll gain his team the tough yards. Still, because he’s missing the elements that translate to top-level fantasy points, his underrated skill level won’t be translating to a good sleeper candidate for the second round of your rookie drafts.
After his combine, AJ Dillon is likely rising up draft boards. I don’t see a team spending a premium top-75 pick on him, but round 4 is his floor. That’s about what he is as a player too, a very solid floor as an NFL talent. His ceiling is capped as a contributing piece in a backfield. Some team will likely draft him where they can pair him with a complimentary back, where Dillon will be given the responsibility of gaining the tough yards. He does enough in the passing game that a team can run play action with him, but he will most likely be relegated to a first and second down role and off the field in the hurry-up offense. You hope he can gain and win a goal-line role on a team with a good offense giving him extra touchdown opportunities.
Dillon is going to be a good depth piece, but his cost of a second-round pick will likely exceed the value you will get from him. Fans of him will be hoping for a very Jordan Howard like career. There’s nothing wrong with that, Howard was a solid RB 2, and Chicago found that it was much harder to replace him than they had previously thought. Still, as far as fantasy goes, I think Dillon will likely find himself in a timeshare and ceding the more valuable touches to his backfield mate.
Thoughts, comments? Hopefully this profile gives you a full picture of AJ Dillon – what he does, what he doesn’t do as well, and where I think he can fit in the league. I’m always available @thesofacout on Twitter.
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