What a difference a year makes or should I say what a difference one player can make because in terms of the Green Bay Packers running backs, it took only one player to transform the position from a weakness into a strength; Eddie Lacy.
Lacy, a second-round pick from the University of Alabama burst onto the scene for the Packers in 2013, finally giving the offense balance and a legitimate threat in the running game.
On his way to earning offensive rookie of the year honors, the powerful Lacy started 15 games for Green Bay and rushed for a total of 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also adding 35 receptions for 257 yards.
Going into the 2013 Draft I was hopeful the Packers would select Lacy in the first round of the draft, cause I believed he could be an impact player, especially teaming with Aaron Rodgers and his dynamic passing attack.
Of course, the Packers knew they could wait on Lacy and finally selected him late in the second round. It was a gutsy move by general manager Ted Thompson but it paid off tremendously and with Lacy as the bell cow, the Packers finished 7th in the NFL in rushing, fifth in rushing touchdowns and fourth in yards per carry.
These stats are particularly impressive considering Rodgers was sidelined for essentially half the season. During that time it was Lacy that carried the offense, which is why Mike McCarthy stated this offseason that before Rodgers went down to injury, he thought the 2013 Packers could have been his best offense since coming to Green Bay.
Besides Lacy, the other bright spot in the Packers backfield in 2013 was fourth-year veteran James Starks, who was finally able to stay relatively healthy for an entire season and posted his best numbers as a Packer with 493 yards on 89 carries, which equates to an impressive 5.5 yards per carry.
Starks also notched four total touchdowns, three rushing and once receiving. Unfortunately, for the Packers, Starks is headed for unrestricted free agency and may want a chance to start in 2014, so his return is definitely in doubt.
Now let’s look at where the position stands as a whole and what possible avenues if any the Packers may use to add to it.
Currently Under Contract: Eddie Lacy, James Franklin, DaJuan Harris
Free Agents: James Starks
At this point running back is not going to be a priority position this offseason. The Packers have their starter in Lacy, who has now become one the team’s most important players, but they also have some decent talent behind him in Franklin and Harris.
Franklin, a fourth-rounder out of UCLA in 2013, did not get many opportunities as a rookie, something McCarthy regrets, but against the Bengals when both Lacy and Starks were out due to injury, the rookie carried 13 times for 103 yards, flashing the potential that caused Green Bay to draft him in the first place.
Meanwhile, Harris had locked down the starting job at the end of the 2012 season and would have been the starter entering training camp in 2013 but he was forced to miss the entire season due to injury. Yet, he flashed potential in his limited time as the starter and should give Franklin a good push for the no.2 job.
Therefore, the Packers appear to be fairly set at running back, but surely they will add at least another body or two so let’s examine the two possible avenues for them doing so.
Free Agency: There are some good names in the free agent market this year such as Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate and potentially Chris Johnson; the only free agent I could see the Packers trying to sign is their own in Starks. My thought is that the Packers will let the market play out and hope the market is slow on Starks, allowing them to keep him at a more affordable rate. But with rumors of the Giants being interested, it seems likely someone will pay Starks more than Green Bay is willing to fork out.
Draft: The draft also has some very talented runners near the top with Tre Mason from Auburn, Carlos Hyde from Ohio State, Jeremy Hill of LSU and Ka’Deem Carey leading the way. Yet, there appears to be a serious lack of depth in this class, so if the Packers were to draft a back one would think it would be in the later rounds.
I believe the Packers are happy with their current depth at the position but if the opportunity presented itself, I think they would love to add another big back, a la Starks and Lacy.
One potential option that could fall to the Packers somewhere between rounds 5-7 is Terrence West, an FCS standout from the University of Towson. West is a 5’11, 223-pound back that runs in a similar fashion to Starks. He is one-cut runner that is decisive and also has decent enough hands to could develop into a 3-down complimentary back.
West is just one potential fit for the Packers in the later rounds but it is entirely possible that the Packers enter 2014 with just Lacy, Franklin, Harris and a few camp bodies. If that’s the case the Packers will have few worries.
Once again it’s amazing, the difference just one impact player can make.