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Best & Worst Case Scenarios: 2014 Packers Running Backs

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Best & Worst Case Scenarios: 2014 Packers Running Backs

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports.

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports.

It's time for the eighth annual "Best & Worst Case Scenario" series, a feature that goes back to the days of the old RailbirdCentral.com domain.

I attempt to take a look at what is the very best possible season a player is capable of producing, and on the other hand, what would happen if a player fell flat on his face (without assuming they suffer a season-ending injury). These are intended to be extreme scenarios on both sides of the spectrum. More than likely, each player is going to fall somewhere in the middle, but every now and then, they just so happen to come to fruition.

As one final note, I also try to take a look at what these scenarios would be from an individual standpoint and not necessarily what's best (or worst) for the team.

Eddie Lacy

Best-case scenario: As good as Lacy's rookie season was, there's plenty of room for improvement in Year 2. Lacy's first season started slowly as he learned the team's offense and missed a game early on due to concussion. With him entering his second season as the unquestioned starter and a greater grasp on Mike McCarthy's schemes, there's no reason Lacy can't exceed 1,500 yards rushing if he plays all 16 games. And he should be able to surpass last year's 35 receptions for 257 yards too, nearing 2,000 yards of total offense. The more the Packers trust Lacy and he becomes a true three-down back, 15 touchdowns are within reach.

Worst-case scenario: If Lacy doesn't trump the statistics he put up as a rookie in the NFL, it's probably has less to do with his talent and more because there will be a healthy running back rotation in Green Bay. With James Starks spelling him for a handful of carries per game, and John Kuhn taking away a touchdown or two, and DuJuan Harris and even Randall Cobb getting occasional playing time in the backfield, the potential is there for Lacy check in just south of 1,000 yards and single-digit touchdowns.

 

John Kuhn

Best-case scenario: Already a Pro Bowler once in 2011, Kuhn makes it twice in 2014. He's arguably the most well-rounded fullback in the NFL from his lead blocking to his pass protection to catching the ball out of the backfield to carrying the football to his special teams contributions and leadership and everything in between. To make the Pro Bowl and make a name for yourself as a fullback, however, you have to touch the football, and Kuhn does exactly that, scoring at least two touchdowns on the ground and through the air.

Worst-case scenario: Due to a variety of reasons from age to Lacy becoming a three-down back, Kuhn starts to see his role decrease significantly in 2014. He still gets occasional snap as third-down back to protect Aaron Rodgers and the sporadic carry that elicit the crowd to cheer "KUUUUUHN," but the fullback's playing time decreases rather significantly as the season progresses. His vast knowledge of the Packers offense and leadership are still welcome additions, but it becomes increasingly clear that 2014 is Kuhn's swan song in Green Bay.

 

James Starks

Best-case scenario: Because he's not taking the down in, down out pounding like he did during college and early in his pro career, Starks is able to play all 16 games for the first time as a professional. As long as Lacy is around, Starks will always play second fiddle, but he starts to earn respect as one of the best No. 2 running backs in the entire league. He rushes for more than 500 yards, he averages more than five yards per carry, and he has at least five touchdowns both on the ground and through the air combined. Starks is a valuable role player in Green Bay.

Worst-case scenario: Starks' spot on the 53-man roster is secure, but the Packers start to favor DuJuan Harris' speed as the better complement to Lacy's power. As such, Starks' carries come fewer and further apart. His job is never in question, but Starks only puts up about 250 yards and averages less than four yards per carry and his future in Green Bay beyond 2014 is up for speculation despite signing a two-year contract in the offseason.

 

DuJuan Harris

Best-case scenario: Harris exhibits no ill effects from a torn patellar tendon last season, nor from the surgery to remove a cyst from his lung. Bolstered by a strong showing during the preseason, Harris gains the confidence of the coaching staff and picks up right where he left off toward the end of the 2012 season. When the Packers want to get speed on the field, they start going to Harris with increasing frequency. He starts to become a good receiving target out of the backfield and ends up with more than 500 yards of total offense. Not only that, he becomes the team's primary kick return specialist, sparing Randall Cobb and Micah Hyde from such duties.

Worst-case scenario: Harris isn't the same player coming off of last year's torn petallar tendon. His speed has gone from fast to merely average, and he finds little success during the exhibition season. When the rookies on the team such as Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins impress and look like the better long-term investment, Harris is surprisingly cut at the end of training camp in favor of one of the younger backs on the team.

 

Michael Hill

Best-case scenario: Over the course of training camp and the preseason, Hill shows why the Packers signed him to a contract in the offseason. The Packers don't want to expose Lacy and Starks to much pounding during the month of August, and Hill ends up as the team's leading rusher in the preseason. The Packers can't justify keeping Hill on the 53-man roster unless there's an injury ahead of him, but he does enough to warrant keeping on the practice squad and is available to be promoted just like he was in 2013.

Worst-case scenario: Compared to the rest of the talent in Green Bay's backfield, Hill looks below average. And in fact, he doesn't even stack up with the rookies the Packers brought into camp this season. These rookies cut their teeth in the SEC, which stands in contrast to Hill's Division II pedigree, and it shows. Hill gets no more than a handful of fourth-quarter preseason carries and is cut in the midst of training camp.

 

Raijon Neal

Best-case scenario: Neal is one of the pleasant surprises of Packers training camp. While he maybe doesn't possess the power of an Eddie Lacy, Neal has good size-speed combination at 5-11 and 220 lbs. As a former college wide receiver, Neal also proves valuable as a target out of the backfield. After a preseason in which he averages nearly five yards per carry, the Packers decide to carry Neal on their roster as the No. 3 running back, even though the playing time he gets during the regular season comes sparingly.

Worst-case scenario: Neal proves worthy of an invitation to training camp, but he just can't do anything to separate himself from the competition. He doesn't have the speed of DuJuan Harris, the special teams experience of LaDarius Perkins and is merely on par with Michael Hill. The Packers give Neal a fair shot during the exhibition season, but nearly every carry goes for a non-descript two or three yards, and he's eventually cut.

 

LaDarius Perkins

Best-case scenario: Perkins looks to be a younger version of DuJuan Harris but with even more potential. His speed has the ability to excite and perhaps his best asset is his experience returning kickoffs. Perkins is small and won't be an every-down back, but he shows throughout the month of August he can play a third-down back type of role and can be a contributor on special teams. Perkins becomes one of the final bubble players to make the team's 53-man roster.

Worst-case scenario: Unfortunately for Perkins, checking in at less than 200 lbs. is a detriment he can't overcome. While he has good speed, it's not on the same level as some of the NFL's other undersized running backs. And even though he might have kick return experience in college, the Packers would rather see players like Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis get a chance at that job ahead of Perkins, and he can't get beyond the league's cutdown date to 75 players.

 

Ina Liaina

Best-case scenario: While he doesn't have the experience or the knowledge of the Packers offense like John Kuhn possesses, Liaina is the better run blocker of the two. His skill as a lead blocker is especially evident during preseason action when Liaina has the opportunity to open up holes for the running backs behind him. While the Packers can't find room to keep him on their roster, they identify Liaina as the long-term replacement for Kuhn and keep him on the practice squad, developing him for 2015 and beyond.

Worst-case scenario: While occasionally flashing as a sledge-hammer type of blocker, it's just not enough to justify keeping Liaina in training camp beyond the league's first mandated cutdown. His death knell is not being able to do anything with the ball in his hands, and he can't be trusted in pass protection either.

Next in our series will be the wide receivers.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (3) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

jmac34's picture

This has to be one of the most set positions on the team. It's incredible to see how far the position has come in just two years

COW's picture

i agree

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Way to go COW! On another note, I laughed when you offered to write an article on the 10 reasons for pessimism, and actually am waiting to see if such an opus gets published.

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