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Cory's Corner: Versatility rules in today's NFL

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Cory's Corner: Versatility rules in today's NFL

I’m not going to gush about Tom Brady. I’m not going to say that he’s the best ever.

But what I am going to talk about is the revised running back.

Gone are the days of the lumbering back that goes north and south and rumbles for three yards and a cloud of dust.

That has been replaced by the version you saw on Sunday. James White being targeted a whopping 16 times and catching 14 balls for 110 yards and a touchdown. He set a record for the number of receptions in a Super Bowl by breaking Demaryius Thomas’ mark of 13. Remember, Thomas is a No. 1 wideout, White isn’t even the featured back. His high water marks on the season were nine targets and 26 yards rushing — not anything special.

But that’s the ingeniousness of the Patriots’ system. They don’t pigeonhole themselves into something that has to work when they know deep down it isn’t going to.

White is perfect for the Patriots because like Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, he’s another shifty guy that can make staccato cuts and has a knack for keeping drives alive.

With the rules tilting heavily toward quarterbacks and the passing game, running backs have been de-emphasized. It’s why the Cowboys didn’t think twice about letting DeMarco Murray walk and it’s why the Texans didn’t lose any sleep about watching Arian Foster leave.

The position has to be more versatile. With a speedy, reliable running back, a linebacker has no chance against him. And that’s why I thought Darren Sproles was a great free agent signing by New Orleans in 2011. He complemented the fast field surface perfectly and thusly set an NFL record for total yards with 2,696.

The Packers will have Ty Montgomery next year, but the question is, who else? I don’t see Eddie Lacy coming back, even on an incentive-laden deal. The Packers need a quick, versatile threat that can be cloaked as a receiver. The perfect person I can think of is Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. Many mock drafts have McCaffrey going to who else, but New England.

After the collapse in the NFC Championship Game, the Packers don’t need any help on offense. But that doesn’t mean versatility should be ignored. James Starks doesn’t have much gas left in the tank and who knows if Christine Michael can be counted on to finally grasp the system.

Aaron Rodgers asked for help. The answer lies in versatility. 


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (62) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

packerbackerjim's picture

I wholeheartedly agree with McCaffrey being the selection IF available. He and Ty would give defenses fits.
The obvious holes on D really should be addressed in FA. The CBs may in fact develop but I wouldn't bet a SB ring on it. A DE like Campbell would make me ecstatic. Clark and Lowry look promising, but the need to have guys rotating was made clear with the second half collapse of Atlanta.

RCPackerFan's picture

I'm not going to lie. McCaffery in Green Bay would be exciting. The combination of him and Montgomery... yeah I really like that. He would provide an explosive play making type of player. Pairing him up with Montgomery would give the offense a lot of versatility.

The only thing with McCaffery is he isn't a power RB that can run the ball 20 times up the middle of the defense. That being said they wouldn't ask him to do that.

croatpackfan's picture

2nd half collapse in Atlanta? Whole game was bad D. Packers was depleted wqith injuries and D was not able to hold the ground. Whole game, not only second half!

packerbackerjim's picture

I should have made clear the Atlanta defense collapse in the second half of the Super Bowl.

RCPackerFan's picture

For the most part i agree with what your saying Cory.

The part I disagree about is the part that Lacy won't be back. I think he will be back.

One thing I do question though is what style of RB best fits the Packers offense. Lacy brings some contrast to the offense. And the offense definitely can use that in its offense. But after he got hurt and Montgomery began playing RB, the offense really opened up. They were able to do more things schematically with Montgomery then they could with Lacy.

I think the Packers could use a quick change of direction type of RB who can catch passes. One that could play out of the shotgun which is how they line up most of the time.

I want Lacy back but I want to see them draft a RB by the middle rounds. A guy who can come in and contribute. Every year there are RBs that are drafted in the middle rounds that make contributions and become really good players.
This year guys like Paul Perkins, Jordan Howard, Wendell Smallwood all were drafted in the 5th round and contributed to their teams. Howard was really good.
Last year, Jay Ajayi was a 5th round pick.
2014 - Devonta Freeman, James White were 4th round picks.

Its time to reinvest into the RB position.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

"I think the Packers could use a quick change of direction type of RB who can catch passes."

It would be great, but my problem with it is that Rodgers tends to ignore those types of routes for stuff down the field. So then why spend a high pick on a guy that does just that?

RCPackerFan's picture

Well Rodgers seemed to use the RB's more this year then in previous years out of the backfield.

Also I didn't say they should spend a high pick on a RB. I was suggesting middle rounds to find a RB.

Perhaps a guy like Wayne Gallman in the 4th round area could be a good fit. He has played in the spread offense so he is more adapt to running the ball from the Shotgun.
Corey Clement in that area would be more of a 3 down type of RB if they chose to go that way.
There are a number of other guys they could find in the middle rounds.

dobber's picture

Just not a fan of Corey Clement. Sure, he played well for UW, but he gets dinged way too much and doesn't have much of a track record of playing with nagging injuries.

RCPackerFan's picture

My biggest concern with Clement is his injuries. The last 2 years he has been injured. As a kid to late round pick though he might be a good pickup. I think I would take him over Michael at this point.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

"Well Rodgers seemed to use the RB's more this year then in previous years out of the backfield. "

As scary a thought as that is I think I agree with you.

RCPackerFan's picture

What's so scary about that? It just means your becoming an optimist.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

It's scary that last year was MORE.

RCPackerFan's picture

During the Senior Bowl Clement showed really good hands and the ability to block. 2 big questions about him.

I really think Dare could be a late round find. He has only played RB for 2 years and has become a tremendous blocker and receiving RB. He could be a really good 3rd down RB or used similarly as James White.

RCPackerFan's picture

I think McCaffery will be really good. And especially in the right offense he could be extremely productive.

There is a drop off from a McCaffery to a Dare that being said the value you would get with Dare at the end of the draft vs McCaffery at the beginning I think would be worth it.

I hope they bring Lacy back. Lacy and Montgomery would be a really good 1-2. Then draft a guy in the mid-late rounds. Also see what Don Jackson can do. He is a guy that could be the 3rd RB, but honestly I don't want to rely on him.

Tundraboy's picture

Most definitely RC. Bring back Lacy. And just as having a true TE threat was a must, having a Sproles type back would complete this O and take full advantage of Aaron's abilities. If he has it he will use it. Another tall fast and physical receiver would, along with Davis, be a scary thing. That could be unstoppable.

croatpackfan's picture

So, finally we come to agreement... New football is more about football players than specialists... That is very interesting...
I hear lot of calling TT, who claimed 3 years ago (before 2014 draft!) that he is looking for football players... Versatility players not specialists...
Case closed. I agree completely with you. Very soon teams with more football players will have more wins than a team with specialists...
EDIT: Just to add. Do you know why Aaron Rodgers is so good? Because he can play many positions good and few possitions excellent. That is why Aaron is so unique.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture


Handsback's picture

The Packers used Monty with great success and many thought he could/should have been an even bigger part of every gameday plan. Green Bay has and wanted to use Lacy like NE used a sledgehammer against defenses especially in the 4th qtr. They couldn't in the SB because they were so far behind and had to pass on every single down. Outside of needing to pass on every down, you need a RB that can get those 1-2 yards for the first down. Do you think if the Falcons had Lacy in the 4th qtr., they would have won that game? One other impression, if the Cowboys had McCaffery instead of Elliott, would they had been as successful?

I think Green Bay is still trying to process the use of Monty as a RB and hasn't used him enough to optimize their offense. Lacy, who is the battering ram they need for short yardage, is the perfect complement for this offense. His ability to catch the ball makes him extremely dangerous and when healthy is the complete back. So McCaffery is a better RB than Monty, but I don't think he would be a solution for what the Green Bay Packers need as their other RB.

RCPackerFan's picture

I would like to see the Packers bring Lacy back. You are right. Teams need that sledgehammer that can get 1-2 yards when needed.

'Do you think if the Falcons had Lacy in the 4th qtr., they would have won that game? '
No, because they had Freeman who was having a really good game and they didn't really use him much in the 4th quarter.

I really like the 1-2 combination of Lacy/Montgomery. I think it will be a really good duo. Especially with Montgomery getting an offseason fully learning the RB position.
That being said I would still like to see them draft a RB.

dobber's picture

"I would like to see the Packers bring Lacy back. You are right. Teams need that sledgehammer that can get 1-2 yards when needed."

Let's not lose track of the fact that the Patriots got there on the back of Brady...AND on Legarrette Blount's 1200 yards and 18 TDs. There's nothing versatile about Legarrette Blount.

RCPackerFan's picture

This is very true.

Lacy improves the Packers offense. Most people want to call him fat or whatever. The truth is they still need a big physical RB.

I would like them to add a versatile RB though.

Tundraboy's picture


dobber's picture

" It’s why the Cowboys didn’t think twice about letting DeMarco Murray walk and it’s why the Texans didn’t lose any sleep about watching Arian Foster leave."

DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster have been premier 3-down backs. Murray has caught 206 passes over the last 4 seasons...better than 50 per. Foster, in his prime, was catching 50-60 passes. Those players were allowed to walk for other reasons: Murray because the Doughboys were lacking in cap space, had an emerging OL, and couldn't rationalize paying what he was asking. Foster because he was suffering major injuries year after year. In either case, the team that made that decision didn't deem the player worth what it would cost to keep them, but it wasn't for lack of versatility.

cuervo's picture

"The days of the lumbering back...." are gone. Exactly, which is why it would non prodcutive to bring back Lacy. He would make more sense in someone elses offense, not the Packers.

McCarthy gives lip service to "we want to run the ball" they don't and to be honest that should not be the primary focus with this team. We are a pass first team , should stay that way, and having additional weapons in the form of running backs that can contribute more in the passing game than Lacy could ever hope to would be prudent.

However, I'm not sure McCarthy would know what to do with such a back or backs.

If we need a big lumbering back to run into the pile, we have Ripkowski. Speed, Speed, Speed....desperately needed on defense, and more on offense would be an asset as well.

Razer's picture

Why not call Brady "the best ever". I have never seen a guy who hasn't played with a premier deep threat receiver control a game like he does. For the last 8 years every defense knows that he is going to throw the ball within 15 yards of the LOS or to the RB out of the backfield and nobody can stop him. Despite the critical drops he still got it done. You need the "man" to play with less talent.

We have our James White and Garrett Blount. Lacy and Montgomery can do what NE does on offense if we chose to live underneath. MM and Rodgers prefer the vertical game which we are not really suited for - but we like our 3rd and 3 shots. What we really miss is a quick twitch Julian Edelman (sorry Cobb). He is the go-to guy for Brady.

Either way, when the Packers play a control style of offense and nibble away at the smaller stuff, it is hard to stop Rodger's accuracy.

I do agree that we need to use the quick, change of pace back who catches out of the backfield. We are just starting to discover that part of the game.

RCPackerFan's picture

Once Lacy and Starks were out and they were forced to use Montgomery as a RB, it really opened up the offense. They discovered a threat out of the backfield in the receiving game.

Next year I would like to see them continue this because it puts a lot of stress on defenses.
Just look at the Super Bowl. The amount of stress that Freeman, Coleman and White put on the opposing defenses.

Mike McSchottenheimer's picture

If you think this is a "new" thing then you are very, very, young and/or know very little of football history. Marcus Allen, Larry Centers, Keith Byars, Marshall Faulk, Roger Craig, Rickey Watters, etc..... This is nothing new. Offensive versatility was pioneered by men like Gilman and Walsh.

Cory Jennerjohn's picture

I agree. That's why I mentioned Darren Sproles.

Tundraboy's picture

Yes, and all great examples, especially Roger Craig in the WC offense.

Since '61's picture

While I agree that the Packers can use another versatile back versatility has been around in the NFL for a long time. Which back has been more versatile than Frank Gifford or the Packers own Paul Hornung. Hornung could run, throw, catch, block and even place kick. He had good speed not great speed and he had enough power to get the short yardage especially in the goal line offense. For today's Packers they have Monty. They need to draft another RB, possibly similar to James White and maybe a short, tough yardage guy, although they have Rip. In any case Starks should be done and Lacy should only come back on a very Packer friendly contract and only if he is below 240. Otherwise, chuck him. As for Brady, I thought that he was correct when he stated that James White should have been the SB MVP, he played great. White and Hightower on defense made the NE comeback possible. Brady was the beneficiary of an exhausted Falcon defense and very poor coaching by Atlanta. Thanks, Since '61

Tundraboy's picture

"White and Hightower on defense made the NE comeback possible. Brady was the beneficiary of an exhausted Falcon defense and very poor coaching by Atlanta."

As good a summary as it gets. Thanks for the Hornung reference.

stockholder's picture

I think the packers should still go for BPA. or STAR. Even if that player is a TE or LB. I think the bigger need is speed. TT stayed to fix and what ifs. It's time to go after the stars of the draft. Not the square's to put in the round holes. The way we have patched a hole is concerning. It just hasn't produced the results to take us to the unbeaten days. Fix the hole through Free Agency . Draft the stud. Example: He drafted A-rod for the future and knew he'd be a star. TT has gotten away from that. Draft the star ,not the need. The need can be fixed with free Agancy now. The undrafted players are making this team. And he's had to many Busts. TT needs to change it up again.

Tundraboy's picture

When can you start?

pacman's picture

Wasn't that the point of Lacy and Montgomery? One bulldozer and one more versatile. A respected running game opens the passing game - especially the short passing game and the middle of the field.

I would be in favor of giving Lacy an incentive based contract. Packers haven't had a tackle breaking back like this for a long time.

The problem is the defense. Let's not lose focus (as if it is up to us<g>). The offense when it heals up should be fine. Any spare money should be directed to the defense. Many have been saying that AR has been carrying MM. It would be nice to have the defense carry DC so even when he rushes 3 on 3rd and long, we aren't worried! DC played this perfectly - he saw he wasn't getting enough focus and knew that he wouldn't be held personally responsible so he let the D fail. JUST JOKING ABOUT THIS LAST SENTENCE.

Razer's picture

Don't forget that it was 31-0 against Atlanta until part way through the 3rd quarter. As much as our defense 'shit the bed' our offense couldn't take advantage of an average Atlanta defense. We've had our trouble scoring and it almost ended our season by game 11. Aaron Rodgers was the only difference. Our backfield was an afterthought in getting to the big game. We can't afford to not improve out of the backfield and with getting more consistent play from our WRs.

Yes our defense is a priority but our offense is not all roses.

RCPackerFan's picture

A lot of truth to this.

Our defense has issues, no question. Some due to injury, some due to subpar play and inexperience.

Regardless we still need to add to the offense. We can't stay status quo there...

Bringing Lacy back and adding another RB would be a very good thing. Montgomery showed up well but the truth is he hasn't been healthy in his first 2 years. Lacy went on IR. We need a 3rd RB that can actually play.
Also adding another true threat at TE would be a good thing even if we bring Cook back. We can't go through another season with only Rodgers and the Perillo's of the world as our only backup options. Adding a young pass catching option could help improve our offense.

dobber's picture

"Wasn't that the point of Lacy and Montgomery? One bulldozer and one more versatile. "

There was no Lacy and Montgomery in 2016. There was Lacy...then there was nothing but inadequacy, cries of dismay and gnashing of teeth...then there was Montgomery (sort of) and Ripkowski.

If you're looking ahead to 2017, then I'm with ya.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

No point in spending a high draft pick on a receiving RB that Rodgers will just ignore.

If the Packers don't bring in some FAs or trade for some defense they need to spend this entire draft on CB, OLB, DL and OL depth.

Handsback's picture

dobber is right in that this year there was no Lacy and Monty only Lacy and then Monty.
TT will be drafting another RB and probably get a couple in FA. Depth hurt this year and competition is always good.

al bundy's picture

Why fa for a runnng back, this draft is loaded in all rounds with backs. Lets get someone who can pass rush and for god sakes pass defend.

Handsback's picture

Also said draft a RB.

Handsback's picture

Also said draft a RB.

al bundy's picture

Corey I disagree. First unless im mistaken mike will be the head coach. Mike hates to practice thus mike wants to have guys who know the routine, same routine dfferent year. Mik keeps things simple, no crossing rotes, screen plays, mx en up offenses. Mke loves big straight ahead running backs. He doesnt possess the intellegence to run a sophisicated offense so lacy will be ba k because he said he wants lacy. Nothing will change next year because f mike. This team needs a lot on both sides the ball. They may need more then any ther team.

dobber's picture

"Mik keeps things simple, no crossing rotes, screen plays, mx en up offenses. Mke loves big straight ahead running backs. He doesnt possess the intellegence to run a sophisicated offense....They may need more then any ther team."

Someone here must've partied it up hard after the SB because I think he's still drunk.

Lphill's picture

I think Lacy comes back and performs well after being a spectator last season Monty is the versatile back he had that one game similar to James white when he had about 150 yards and a few touchdowns , see if Michael does well in camp and I think that's a pretty decent backfield, I want the first 3 picks at least used on defense . The best defensive players available.

MarkinMadison's picture

The Packers desperately need some young talent to rush the QB. They also need speed, speed and more speed at LB. Really, if you are going to run the 3-4 the LBs need to be the stars of the show. I just don't see spending a first-rounder on a "versatile" running back when we have so many holes at full-time positions.

Nick Perry's picture

That's really lost on TT through. With the exception of Matthews Thompson hasn't really spent a high draft pick on an actual LB. I posted last year about Deion Jones a number of times and was "Informed" he's to small to play inside in a 3-4. I think Jones would have been excellent in this defense, especially since they are rarely in a base 3-4. The Packers have missed out on 2 phenomenal ILB in the last 2 drafts in Kendricks and Jones.

Signing Perry is an interesting proposition. He had an excellent season this year but still didn't make it through uninjured. He's had one season of great production and 4 of up and down injury filled seasons. I have a strong feeling he goes to a 4-3 defense. Actually it wouldn't surprise me a bit if the Vikings made a run at him, weaken the team to beat and improve their own defense at the same time. They'll be in the market for a 4-3 DE too. Detroit might be too, and Perry is from Michigan.

dobber's picture

I don't fault Perry for the injury. He broke, what, 2 or 3 fingers? Those are contact injuries and they happen...and he played through it, which was really encouraging. People might say it was because it was a contract year, but he was in a contract year last year and what happened?

It's when guys are dogged by incessant soft-tissue injuries (ahem, CMIII) that I really start to wonder about them.

Nick Perry's picture

That's true dobber, not really his fault but man of man the guy has bad luck. Has there been a season without any injury? Someone wrote (and I can't recall who) that he couldn't really get a read on Perry and what he wanted to do. Does he want to come back to GB? Perry himself hasn't said he does to my knowledge. Does he want to continue to play OLB or go to a 4-3 team and play DE? Coming back this season for $5 million was a smart, smart, play by Perry. He put in the effort in the offseason because he was healthy and it really paid off.

I'd like to see him back but not for ridiculous money which it might take. The Packers have so few options they might have to overpay to keep him because there will be a market. With Matthews on the books for $15.2 and Perry for say $10 million if they keep him (Just a guess) that's a heck of a lot of money for less than 20 sacks.

What they do with Matthews I believe will be the key to the whole thing. $15.2 for CMIII is too much but what to do with him? Move him inside and renegotiate? That's if Matthews is even willing to renegotiate.

porupack's picture

I like Perry, but glad you stated it like you did. GB just won't be able to afford a high price Perry in addition to Matthews...considering the production from both. Both good, but not elite.
Again, I think TT has not managed expiring contracts well, last year nor this year with a bulge of too many FAs.

NitschkeFan's picture

It is so obvious that the first few draft picks will be on Defense that this article is just a sign of the long off-season. Ridiculous wish lists that ignore the reality that the team has a top 5 offense and a bottom 10 defense. Again.

And a RB? Good grief, using a first round pick on RB is just plain stupid in today's NFL. Unless you can pick up a Barry Sanders or OJ, forget it.

The only way they use Round 1 pick on a RB is if they sign multiple defensive players in free agency. DE/OLB and CB who can be starters.

Probability of that? Very low.

GLM's picture

Packers just released Starks. Thank you, James, for all your hard work. You were a big part of the Packers' Super Bowl run and victory in 2010-11.

RCPackerFan's picture

Can't thank Starks enough for that Super Bowl run. Without him, I really don't think we win the Super Bowl.

Donster's picture

Versatile RB's raise hell with defenses. The ability to catch passes, the threat of the screen (which the Pack used to be able to do with great success), and if they can get around the corner is a great weapon. Lacy, if healthy and off the jelly doughnuts, can pound the ball up the gut, and would be most effective in the 4th quarter, when DB's no longer want to get run over. Blend all of that with Rodgers passing ability and you can beat anyone. Fix the secondary and the ability to put pressure on a QB and you have the making of a Super Bowl Champion. All and all, the DEFENSE has to be fixed first.

RCPackerFan's picture

Defense has to be fixed, no question..

But at the same time the Offense needs a bit of work as well and shouldn't be ignored...

I would really like to bring back Lacy and draft another RB. One that is faster and could make plays in the open field would be really nice. Lacy, Montgomery and another player would be a good.

Also bring back Cook, and draft another faster pass catching TE. They need an upgrade from the Perillo types of TE.

And depending on what happens on the OL, they need more depth. Finding an upgrade over Barclay would be a huge improvement.

porupack's picture

Agree with Donster. We need to be able to pound the ball in second half.

I don't understand the critics who say an offense doesn't need a strong runner. Wasn't it years past this site was full of critics who complained GB couldn't play smashmouth football in the 4th quarter to preserve a lead and eat clock?

Sure, a versatile back is needed. But somewhere among the 45 who dress up for a game, should be a bull to call upon at any time. Don't we want MM to have a bunch of options to use during the course of a game?

RCPackerFan's picture

Sam Shields released is expected but still sad.

Nick Perry's picture

Saw that too. No I am beginning to wonder if Ted plays around a little in Free Agency. Cutting Shields and Starks gives them over $43 Million in Cap Space. Now, what's up with CMIII?

Handsback's picture

I saw one publication say that the Packers would cut CM...I highly doubt that and wonder how realistically that discussion has been if at all at Packer's HQ.

RCPackerFan's picture

Honestly. I don't see anything happening with Mathews.

Nick Perry's picture

Really? $15.2 Million for that? OUCH!!!

RCPackerFan's picture

Maybe they try and restructure his contract. But he is still one of our best defensive players. They won't cut him.

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