This is the appropriate place to start with AJ Dillon. He’s a grown man.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 15, 2017
What makes this even more impressive, Dillon was just a true freshman in this clip. The New London, Connecticut native, has strong football bloodlines. His grandfather, Thom Gatewood, is a legend at Notre Dame. He played there from 1969-1971 and led the Irish in receiving for three consecutive seasons. Gatewood logged 157 catches which were a school record that stood for 35 years. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015. Dillon’s recruiting process was anything but ordinary.
New London, Connecticut is not known for football. Somehow, as a 14-year-old, Dillon understood that he might need a change of scenery if he wanted to see his football dreams realized. This is what he had to say to ‘The Day,’ “It was really hard to leave New London, I thought about it after eighth grade after Bennie Dover. It wasn’t out of spite. I really, really wanted to play against the best competition. I knew what recruiters thought about kids from New England. So I needed to play against the best competition I could in New England. At Lawrence (Mass.) Academy, everybody you play has guys going Division I.” Dillon’s mother recalled a five-page letter that AJ wrote to her where he bore his soul and implored her to allow him to go boarding school and play football against top competition. Current Boston College Head Coach has stated that Dillon is a man who “understands.” He is mature beyond his years, not just physically as demonstrated by the above clip, but mentally. Dillon initially committed to Michigan and was wooed by other blue bloods like Alabama, but ultimately decided to stay home and attend Boston College. Dillon fractured his tibia as a senior, and he began to truly appreciate his family and how he enjoyed being close to them. In addition to that, the competitor in him had this to say, “I really wanted to be present in this area and kind of go against the stigma about New England football.”
The first thing that I noticed when watching Dillon as a high school player was his size. He was already the size of a collegiate player as an underclassman in high school. He is built like a linebacker. In watching some of his early film, it was easy to typecast him into the role of a power back that may not be very elusive nor athletic. Dillon had this to say to ND Insider in 2015, “I’m not only a big, third-down back, I may be 6 feet and 230 pounds, but I can still move. I’m working on my footwork because in my film, there aren’t many jukes. Normally, I just run people over if they’re in my way. But I’m working on that to add another dimension to my style.” Based on the way that he later tested athletically in high school, my assumption from several years ago about his potential lack of athleticism was just false. His verified testing numbers in high school look like this:
High school testing numbers for rising sophomore RB AJ Dillon. This is not a scat back, notice the size. pic.twitter.com/0o68b2cQja
— FranchiseKF (@FranchiseKF) June 3, 2018
In March of 2018, AJ “The Sauce” Dillon seemingly predicted a portion of his future combine performance:
Dillon’s prediction for how he will test after college. Listen to the man, save this tweet. https://t.co/lkDbyDfPR6
— FranchiseKF (@FranchiseKF) June 3, 2018
Let that settle in for a moment. That’s an athlete.
While his physicality is his trump card, he has displayed plenty of agility through one season in college.
AJ Dillon showing off his wiggle here. pic.twitter.com/h4iMMirTqP
— Fusue Vue (@lifesyourcup) December 9, 2017
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) December 9, 2017
AJ Dillon, Boston College | 6’0” 240lbs… AJ Dillon is a big back, but has excellent agility and balance pic.twitter.com/2ZLxykLeYb
— Cody Garrett (@_codygarrett) December 4, 2017
In this next clip, the defender does a great job of bringing him down on a solo tackle, but I compare how difficult it is to bring him down versus many other more regularly sized backs. Ty (@WurthDraft) has a great highlight reel of him here, but focus on the first play. That is a freakishly big and strong, first-round NFL draft pick in Derwin James that looks like he may have a hernia bringing him down.
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) November 17, 2017
Most times he is being wrangled it takes several defenders to bring him down. According to Pro Football Focus, he averaged 3.88 yards after contact in 2017. That ranked fourth in the ACC.
I am an AJ Dillon fan, dude runs with purpose. Yards after contact. pic.twitter.com/2xqAC9Z2we
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) October 14, 2017
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) November 25, 2017
According to Pro Football Focus, Dillon gained 647 yards in 2017 on “Breakaway Runs” (15+ yard runs, 8th nationally in returning FBS backs). He’s got plenty of juice to hit home runs. He’s not just barely getting by this safety in the following clip; he is running away from him.
AJ DILLON CANNOT BE STOPPED pic.twitter.com/pE2slBSqts
— Barstool BC (@BarstoolBC) November 11, 2017
Dillon finished his freshman campaign with 300 carries for 1,589 yards and 14 rushing TDs. That qualifies him for a breakout season as a nineteen-year-old. His Dominator Rating was 33.75%. Something that makes all of this even more impressive is that he wasn’t really fully trusted with the keys until the middle of October. His 39-272-4 against Louisville was his official coming-out-party in the 45-42 win. The main concern with Dillon is how effective he can be as a pass catcher? We don’t know yet. Based on my research, he wasn’t even targeted a single time as a pass catcher. If you look at the pattern of how Boston College has utilized their feature back over the past few years then you can notice an unusual trend that may help explain why he wasn’t involved in the passing game. The Eagles’ leading rushing over the past three seasons have logged 9, 1, and 0 receptions, respectively. The good news is that throughout my off-season-research, Dillon was mentioned in multiple practice reports making some nice catches out of the backfield. That is truly the only hole that I see in his game, and it’s really unfair to label it is a hole because lack of opportunity certainly does mean a lack of aptitude. Dillon has to deal with defenses loading the box against him to slow him. That’s nothing new to him, articles dating back to 2015 mention similar things and he has been ultra-productive each season since. Boston College returns the overwhelming majority of their offensive line and Dillon should be in line for another monster season. AJD is one of the most valuable CFF players in both redraft and dynasty formats as well as in Devy leagues. While I firmly believe that the NFL is evolving in how the RB position is used and how rosters are being constructed, Dillon is just too talented to not be highly valued by the league and could have a role similar to Derrick Henry’s expected role for the Titans in 2018.