“Fair? This is not fair! This is one guy who’s just better than the people who are trying to tackle him”.
AJ Dillon had received the ball at his own 20 yard line. He bounced right through the hole between two defenders and set off rumbling in to the open field. As he approached the Boston College 45 yard line, Dillon shook off the attempts of a tackle and continued his way down field. A desperate lunge from the last Holy Cross player anywhere near him was neatly stepped over. Touchdown, Boston College!
A man among boys…
It was an early September afternoon at Chestnut Hill and the Holy Cross players were finding out just what Algiers Jameal William Dillon was all about. That afternoon in 2018 he put up 149 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 6 carries. Fair? This is not fair!
Not that anyone at Holy Cross, or anyone in College Football for that matter, should have been surprised.
Since AJ Dillon burst on to the Boston College football scene in 2017, it has been like watching a man among boys. That freshman year he was named ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. It was the first time a player from Boston College had won either award. He carried the rock for 1589 yards and ran it in for 14 touchdowns. Of the 13 games he played, he rushed for 100 plus yards in seven of them.
From Massachusetts to Michigan?
It could have been a different story for Dillon, and for Boston College. Coming out of Lawrence Academy, Massachusetts, Dillon had committed to Michigan early in 2016. As 2016 progressed, and Dillon put up eye watering numbers at Lawrence (600 yards, 12 touchdowns in just four games), he began to have second thoughts about Michigan. In December he made the announcement that he was committing to Boston College and explained his decision as such:
“I’m thankful for the University of Michigan football program welcoming me with open arms. I decided to commit to Boston College because that’s where I feel I will be the most successful on and off the field. I feel like I have the chance to be a part of creating something special”.
Creating something special…
He wasn’t wrong. If his 2017 freshman season wasn’t special enough he followed it up with another spectacular campaign in 2018. Dillon added 10 touchdowns to his 2017 total. He also added another 1108 yards and all this came in an injury limited 10 game window. If he’d played another 13 game slate you can assume that he would have surpassed his freshman season total. His performance was rewarded with an All-ACC First Team selection.
The 2019 College Football season stretches out in front of us. In his junior season, with potential NFL Draft eligibility at the end of it, all eyes will be on AJ Dillon. It’s another opportunity to create the something special that he envisaged when he committed to Boston College. There’s no doubting that AJ Dillon is a special talent, but what makes him so special? For me, there’s a number of factors that make him one of the most special talents in College Football.
The first thing that you notice when you watch his game is just how strong he is! At 6’0 and 240lbs, if he wasn’t strong as a running back then there’d be some major concerns. However, he is as strong as an ox and he shows it in a number of ways. In his first start as a freshman against Louisville, he took the ball at his own 25 yard line and was hit hard by Jaire Alexander but shook it off like he was a fly. He was then wrapped up by another defender who he savagely tossed to one side on his way to a 75 yard touchdown.
You can find multiple examples of him carrying several men on his back as he rumbles down the field. His strength also makes him a potent goal line threat. Even against a stacked box, Dillon is going to muscle his way through as he did against Iowa and Clemson to name just two.
For a guy who is 240lbs he has got remarkable quickness. For sure, he isn’t going to break any stopwatches in the 40 yard dash but once he’s in the open field he’s difficult to catch. His touchdowns against Wake Forest and Temple last season are a great example of this. He can also use this speed to get around the edge and then beat the linebacker as evidenced in his touchdowns versus Florida State and Miami in 2018.
In that game against Miami there is a perfect example of another facet of Dillon’s game that makes him a special talent. He has a great eye for the game and is acutely aware of what is going on around him. Taking the ball on 2nd and 8, Dillon ran right to try and get around the edge. Finding that route blocked, he cut back to the left to take advantage of a hole that had opened up across the middle. He turned a potential bust play in to a big gain, a first down and almost a touchdown. In the game against Central Michigan in 2017, Boston College ran a counter play that was designed to go to the left but Dillon saw a hole open up to the right and burst through it for a touchdown. His awareness and vision are incredible.
As the game of football evolves, coaches are asking more of all their players and the running back position is no different. More and more offensive schemes require the back to be a threat in the passing game as well as the ground game. In his freshman season, AJ Dillon was used solely on the ground and people started to doubt his ability as a pass catching back. In 2018 he was used more in the passing game and tallied 8 catches for 41 yards. His first reception was against UMass and he took it to the house for a 15 yard touchdown.
After a very defensive minded 2019 NFL Draft class, offence is back in the limelight for the 2019/2020 College Football season. There are a number of skill position players in the mix for this year’s Heisman Trophy. However, it has been four years since Derrick Henry won the award as a running back. If AJ Dillon can live up to his potential, then we could see his name in the running for it.
Now, that would be creating something special.
Photo Credit: Matthew J Lee – The Boston Globe