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Packers by Position Offseason Preview: Running Backs

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Packers by Position Offseason Preview: Running Backs

Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..

Overview

The Packers should consider themselves extremely lucky that Eddie Lacy was A) available and B) they actually drafted him at the end of the second round after trading down twice earlier in the same round.

Lacy was a god-send to the Packers in 2013, giving the team the type of production from the position they hadn't seen since the heyday of Ahman Green. He was patient, powerful, capable of breaking tackles and fought through injury to help the Packers qualify for the postseason.

The professional lifespan of most NFL running backs seems to be shorter-lived than players at other positions, but there's no counting Lacy out this early in his career. As long as he stays healthy like he did this past season, Lacy will be expected to be the workhorse back in Green Bay for the next several seasons.

The Packers are in the enviable position of simply looking for a complementary running back to Lacy for 2014 and beyond.

Perhaps the best option would be James Starks, who had arguably the best season of his career in 2013, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns in a backup role. Starks also stayed largely healthy compared to previous seasons, maybe because of the lighter workload.

But Starks is also scheduled to be a free agent this offseason with no guarantee he'll return.

Outside of Starks, the other internal options include hoping that Johnathan Franklin improves upon a promising but unreliable rookie season and DuJuan Harris recovers from an injury to his patellar tendon.

At fullback, John Kuhn proved his value as a blocker in 2013, both by clearing debris ahead of Lacy and as a personal protector for Aaron Rodgers. He too will be a free agent.

Long-Range Free Agency Outlook

James Starks––Even though he wasn't a starter for the Packers this past season, Starks likely upped his free-agent stock by providing consistently effective play and steering clear of the injury bug.

All things being equal, the Packers probably wouldn't mind Starks seeing wearing the green and gold again in 2014. But with the presence of Lacy and the salary-cap space needed to sign the likes of Sam Shields and Evan Dietrich-Smith and extend the contracts of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Starks might be a luxury the Packers can't afford.

If there's even one team out there willing to offer Starks a respectable contract, the Packers would probably be happy for the potential of receiving a compensatory draft choice for his loss, and roll with some combination of Franklin, Harris and any rookie additions.

John Kuhn––In his last contract with the Packers, Kuhn averaged just north of $2.5 million per season. Now at 31 years old, Kuhn isn't likely to make that kind of money any more.

Because of his reliability, knowledge of the offense and special teams, Green Bay will likely welcome Kuhn back with open arms. And if he agrees to a contract significantly less than the type of money he earned with his last contract, he'll probably return.

Khalil Bell––Signed late in the season after an injury ended Franklin's rookie campaign, Bell played exclusively on special teams.

It seems like the only well Bell is re-signed is if the Packers suffer more injuries at the position like they did this past season.

Long-Range NFL Draft Outlook

Thanks to Lacy, running back comes far down the list of needs for general manager Ted Thompson entering the offseason.

Not that Lacy's presence would necessarily preclude the Packers from drafting a running back in the late rounds of the draft, but anything before round four would be extremely surprising, even if Starks leaves in free agency.

At the very least, Thompson can be expected to sign an undrafted player or two.

If Kuhn does happen to depart, however, the Packers also might be looking for a versatile fullback/H-back in the later rounds.

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

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (31) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

mark's picture

"Starks might be a luxury the Packers can’t afford."

This is the crux of the decision right here, and I think it's the most interesting decision the Packers will make this off-season.

With Lacy running so violently, I think it's imperative the Packers have a top flight back up. I also think it's a tremendous asset that, even if Lacy IS healthy, to have two violent guys who can punish would be tacklers. Those hits add up, and they win ballgames. Can we win without Starks, going with some mix of Lacy/Harris/Franklin? I'm sure we can. But Starks was incredible this year. Would love to have this "luxury" back for another go. We shall see.

Lou's picture

Starks ran north & south "angry" and because of his long stride has better speed than it looks. In addition he caught the ball out of the backfield better, his only negative is his inconsistent blitz pickup. He would be the perfect counter punch with Lacy going forward but it will take a James Jones type situation to get him back, watching the Colt's backs, he would be a perfect fit for them. Everyone loved Franklin's "shake and bake" but he puts the ball on the ground and like M.D. Jennings looks so small in person, if he can get strong enough to pick up the blitz and hold onto the ball they may have a replacement for Starks. Harris although he showed flashes a year ago is still an "unknown". The net is whether Starks stays or goes, the RB position is 100% better than a year ago.

L's picture

They certainly would like to resign J.Starks to a 3 year league average back-up RB deal but I bet his agent will find some team willing to pay him like a lower-end starter during Free Agency so the Pack will instead be forced to look over the many other UFAs as well as consider simply adding developmental depth late in the draft and/or through undrafted players... it is, what it is. Going to miss J.Starks -- who demonstrated to me that he was sort of an AP-lite type runner.

Hank Scorpio's picture

RB went from almost an afterthought to an embarrassment of riches in one season. Let's not forget Lacy was the 3rd Packer RB this season to run for 100 in a game. And none of those 3 was the projected starter at the start of training camp. Wasn't Brandon Jackson in 2011 the last guy to do so before this year?

I'd be happy with Lacy, Harris and Franklin heading into week 1 next year. Adding Starks would be better still. But I agree with Brian that it won't take much to price the Packers out of the market for him.

Stroh's picture

Yep, Brandon Jackson was the previous RB to hit 100 yds, and he needed at 70+ yd run to do it.

Considering the Packers were ready to start the year w/ Harris as the starter prior to the draft, I have to think Thompson will be very likely to go into this season w/ Lacy, Harris and Franklin. If Starks is available to a VERY team friendly contract, like a vets minimum, they would bring him back. But like everyone else, I think Starks will be out of the Packers willingness to sign him. Obviously would like him back, but I just don't see it.

Morgan Mundane's picture

Too bad MM doesn't platoon. I mean why bring in a fresh back who isn't tired to run the ball for a while. Oh well.

4thand1's picture

KMA

Phatgzus's picture

MM likes to bring Starks in in the 3rd Quarter or late 2nd after Lacy has battered the D and they've made adjustments for him, then he likes to bring Eddie back late in the 3rd and watch him absolutely obliterate the tired D. Way to pay attention to the game/comprehend game planning.

Hank Scorpio's picture

Lacy is at least decent in pass protection. Starks is closer to "train wreck" in pass pro.

That might explain why the snaps were distributed as they were despite Starks looking really good running the ball. Even late in the year when Lacy was struggling with his ankle and Starks arguably looked better running than Lacy

Digital Tucker Hero's picture

Happy for Starks, and a big payday if he gets it. - Even if not in Green Bay.

4thand1's picture

Well isn't this nice. All the love for James Starks. Over the last couple of years people were calling him a "one hit wonder", "injury prone", "fumbler", get rid of him. Give credit to MM he knew what Starks is capable of. I'm sure trolls like cowpie, Mundumbdane, and arloser were calling him a bust.

cLowNEY42's picture

I've always liked Starks.
Don't put words in my mouth.
He played well this season because he barely played.
He'll never be a back you can count on to be your #1 for a full season.
He ain't comin' back.

I don't agree that...
"Thanks to Lacy, running back comes far down the list of needs for general manager Ted Thompson entering the offseason."

You really want to put your $ on a guys coming off a knee injury (Harris) and Franklin?

They need a replacement for Franklin.

4thand1's picture

BS, I've seen you call every player that's been hurt a bust. Don't lie on top of it. You just proved it calling for a replacement of Harris and Franklin.

Al's picture

Wrong buddy. If you can't see that Franklin has some real ability then you need to watch a few more games. The dude need some playing time is what he needs and an off-season

Stroh's picture

Hard for you to blame us for assuming you called Starks a bust. You think everyone on the Packers is a bust, overpaid, underproducing or just plain God-Awful. Can't honestly remember ANY time you spoke highly of ANY Packer!

Try actually being a Fan of the Packers and we might give you the benefit of the doubt. But your not!

Hank Scorpio's picture

Franklin ran for 100 yards in a game before Lacy did. Franklin's problem is ball security. That is a coachable issue. If he can learn to be a professional RB (ie ball security and pass protection), he and Lacy would make a perfect "Thunder and Lightning" kind of backfield tandem.

Stroh's picture

WHat are you talking about? I wasn't even talking about Lacy and Franklin.

larry valdes's picture

I really will like starks to come back we need the one two combination kuhn ie very dependable need his blocking let franklin and harris figth for the last post.

Ron from ct's picture

I would like to see Starks back, what a back field that would be with Lacy, Starks and Harris, the best in the NFL but I think Starks is going to get his money and the packers can't afford him

Al's picture

Actually if you're talking about the ideal one two punch Lacy and Franklin are the perfect combo. But Harris is a pretty good third option. I want Starks back but if he does not come back we are in good hands. Nobody denies that Franklin has talent. The only knock on him is his fumbles. That can be worked on.

Hank Scorpio's picture

I swear I didn't see this post before I wrote nearly the exact same thing a little bit above in response to another. :D

Ben's picture

2014 53 man depth chart (w/ 4-3 D)
QB: Rodgers, Tolzien, #6draftpick
RB: Lacey, DuJuan, Starks(2year), Franklin
FB: Kuhn(2year), UFA
WR: Cobb, Jordy, Boykin, #5draftpick, Harper
TE: #1draftpick, Quarless(2year),Stoneburner, Bostick,
OL: Bakhtiari, Sitton, EDS(2year), Lang, Bulaga, Barclay, Tretter, Sharrod
DL: Neal(3year), Daniels, Perry, Datone, Boyd, Jolly(2year), Mulumba, Worthy
LB: Matthews(MLB), Lattimore, Hawk, #3draftpick, #4draftpick, UFA
CB: Shields(franchised), House, Heyward, Hyde, Nixon
S: Burnett, #2draftpick, Richardson, #7draftpick
ST: Goode, Crosby, Masthay
Let go: Capers,Finley,Raji,Tramon,JJones,Bjones,Bush,Pickett,md,newhouse,&wilson.
Let go 2015: sharrod,worthy,lattimore,tolzien
Let go 2016:Quarless,Starks,Kuhn,Boykin,EDSorLANG,Jolly,Hawk,Goode

Stroh's picture

You guys make me laugh w/ your "projected" Packers 2014 roster. How about if we wait till at least the draft before we start making ridiculous predictions like that.

Ben's picture

The only possible deviation from this roster is Flynn and a drafted FB replacing Tolzein and an undrafted free agent FB.
The packers may be the only team to value Flynn over Tolzien. Also, Flynn may value the packers over any other team. We can get a cheap long-term deal done with flynn. After we announce our switch back to a 4-3 defense and introduce matthews as the next Urlacher, We package the somewhat coveted Tolzien with the then expendable 8 million dollar Brad Jones. We may even be able to get something of value such as a 5th round draft pick that could be used in obtaining a young understudy for John Kuhn who would also provide depth at the now more valuable position of fullback for our newly rediscovered non-zone blocking running game. Brad’s $8 million could be used in paying for the better 4-3 DE/DT than 3-4 LB Mike Neal. Mike is a physical phreak and need only put 10 of those lbs back on for the move back inside. Perry is a 4-3 RE and played there in college. Datone Jones is a 4-3 LE and played there in college. Extend Daniels 6 years immediately, he is the next 4-3 Cullin Jenkins. A Nickel defensive front of Datone-Daniels-Neal-Perry with matthews and hawk backing them up are you kidding me. The real-deal Josh Boyd bumping Neal out to RE in the base 4-3; Jolly, Mulumba(also a 4-3 RE) keeping things fresh; while Worthy providing versatile depth.
So, the packers 2014 53 man depth chart will no doubtfully be:
QB: Rodgers, Flynn, 6throunder
RB: Lacey, DuJuan, Starks(2year), Franklin
FB: Kuhn(2year), 5throunder
WR: Cobb, Jordy, Boykin, 5throundpick, Harper
TE: 1strounder, Quarless(2year),Stoneburner, Bostick,
OL: Bakhtiari, Sitton, EDS(2year), Lang, Bulaga, Barclay, Tretter, Sharrod
DL: Neal(3year), Daniels, Perry, Datone, Boyd, Jolly(2year), Mulumba, Worthy
LB: Matthews(MLB), Lattimore, Hawk, 3rdrounder, 4throunder, UFA
CB: Shields(franchised), House, Heyward, Hyde, Nixon
S: Burnett, 2ndrounder, Richardson, 7throunder
ST: Goode, Crosby, Masthay
Let go: Capers,Finley,Raji,Tramon,JJones,Bjones,Bush,Pickett,Banjo?,md,newhouse,&wilson.
Let go 2015: sharrod,worthy,lattimore
Let go 2016: Quarless,Starks,Kuhn,Boykin,EDSorLANG,Jolly,Hawk,Goode

Stroh's picture

Again you crack me up! You have no freakin idea how the roster shakes out. There's roughly 25% turnover each year.

Oh and Datone played 34 DE in college, UCLA being one of the few college teams using a 34 D. But all his pass rush production came as a DT in passing situations. He's not a 43 DE. He doesn't have the burst to get the corner, but he does have the quickness to beat OG's.

Tolzien coveted? Really? Maybe as a FA, certainly isn't going to be a team willing to trade anything for him! LOL

The TKstinator's picture

If some team pays Starks big $ then they are probably going to give him a big workload. And then he is going to get injured, and then the fans are going to be pissed that their GM blew big $ on an unrestricted free agent.

Unless he is somehow able to stay healthy. He's a good ballcarrier, runs hard, decent speed. Talent? Yes. Durability? Not so far.

Point Packer's picture

No team will give him big $. You don't give a 28 year old (27 now) RB with durability issues and a clear ceiling - a big money contract Then again, look at what Al Davis and Matt Millen did for years. Stranger things have happened.

Middle aged RB's are just not nearly as valued as they used to be. Especially in this NFL.

That being said, I think James gets a bigger contact than GB is willing to offer elsewhere and he's gone.

Speaking of Matt Millen, I'm simply astonished that he somehow is still looked at as a credible source of football information. And then they did one of those "A Football LIfe" things about him. And he's a commentator on CBS. Its like everyone forgot how kept a NFL in the dumpster for almost a decade. Simply astonishing.

Phatgzus's picture

Well, seeing as how the NFL is paying Joe Buck NOT to get off the airwaves as fast as possible, you may want to question their ability or intent.

That said, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume Mr. Millen has some football knowledge and that he was actually an inside man working for the Packers, bringing the enemy down from the inside, Mata Hari style.

The TKstinator's picture

I agree with you, BUT, in the world of FA, all it takes is ONE...?

RC Packer Fan's picture

For the first time in I don't know how long. I absolutely love the Packers Running Backs.
They have the bruiser in Lacy, who can pound anyone and break tackles. Last year Harris showed how valuable he can be. He is almost a mini version of Lacy. Quicker, but powerful as well.. Then they have the speed guy with Franklin. A guy that is a perfect compliment to Lacy.
I would love to see them bring back Starks, but I honestly don't see it happening. I expect one of these RB needed teams to throw good money towards him. Although maybe it will be like a James Jones situation a few years ago where they can get him back for cheap. I am not holding my breath though.

Either way, I love what they do have with Lacy, Harris and Franklin. An offseason will do wonders for all 3 too. Last year Harris didn't get to do anything in the offseason and Lacy and Franklin were both rookies.

I'm excited for the near future of the RB position.

WangDaYe's picture

The draft is flooded with cheap RB talent. This bodes well for Starks contract a la James Jones.

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