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James Starks: Unreliable, Must Change

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James Starks: Unreliable, Must Change

Mistake prone and unhealthy, Green Bay Packers running back James Starks faces a more uncertain future with the organization than many might believe.

Viewed as a savior when he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl victory last season, Starks needs to eliminate the mental errors and avoid injury if he's going to be part of the plans of the Packers through his next contract.

Certainly, Starks deserves every bit of praise for what he did in the latter half of the 2010 season.

It started with a 73-yard outing in his career debut against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13. Things only got better in the Wild Card round versus the Philadelphia Eagles with a career-high 123 yards.

Starks led all NFL rushers with 315 yards in the 2010 postseason, and the rest is history. He earned his spot in Packers lore, and that can't be taken away.

But that also doesn't guarantee his future. Both before Starks' professional career debut and after the Super Bowl, it's been a mixed bag.

Starks missed his entire senior season of college with a shoulder injury and then first three quarters of his rookie season with a hamstring injury.

His 2011 season got off to a pretty good start with 541 yards rushing through the first 11 games of the year. And only his Week 3 performance against the Chicago Bears––with five yards on 11 carries––could be categorized as poor.

But then knee and ankle injuries suffered in Week 11 versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers derailed the rest of Starks' season. Over the course of the final six games of the regular season, Starks played in only three, totaling 13 carries for 37 yards.

Then came the playoffs, the game in which nearly every offensive player underachieved in the divisional round loss to the New York Giants, including Starks.

Considering he didn't play in the final regular season game against the Detroit Lions and had time to rest during the first-round playoff bye, Starks looked largely recovered from his ankle and knee injuries.

And his six carries for 43 yards (7.3 average) and four receptions for 24 yards (6.0 average) look good on the surface, until taking into effect his three blemishes that evening.

First was dropped pass that hit Starks square in the hands, one of several dropped pass by Packers receivers on the day.

The next error was a broken play on a draw intended for the Packers running back. But after a slow reaction, Aaron Rodgers was forced to run with the ball himself for a modest gain behind left guard, which exposed the quarterback to unnecessary contact.

The final mistake was a sack given up by Starks to Giants linebacker Michael Boley when he was unable to sufficiently engage the defender until Rodgers got rid of the ball.

Starks was far from the only Packer guilty of  making a blunder, but three of them were hard to swallow.

And now Green Bay enters an offseason of uncertainty at the running back position.

Aside from Starks, they must make a decision on Ryan Grant who's a free agent. At one point, it appeared as if the Packers would be content to let Grant walk away. But considering the way Grant ended the season by stringing together several impressive performances, there's a chance the Packers could bring him back.

The Packers also have two younger options. Brandon Saine made quite an impression after signing with the Packers as an undrafted rookie and then being elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster at midseason. His speed and receiving ability are impressive, and he made the most of his limited action.

There may be more opportunities for Saine in the future if he can get a better grasp of the offense and gain the trust of his teammates and coaches in all phases of the game.

Then there's Alex Green whom the Packers invested a third-round draft choice in 2011 before his season was ended with a torn ACL about halfway through the year.

Despite the presence of all these options available to the Packers, they don't preclude the team from adding additional depth at running back through the 2012 Draft.

So where does Starks fit in?

It's up to him.

He's talented. He runs with power, isn't shy of contact and has enough speed to succeed in the NFL. And he's never been anything but a team player and solid locker room presence.

However, he must avoid the aforementioned negatives that have dogged him since his senior season at the University of Buffalo, which is easier said than done. Injuries aren't always a player's fault, especially a player that takes a pounding. But he's only played in 16 of 32 regular season games since joining the NFL.

The Packers shouldn't––and won't––give up on Starks. But he has to become more dependable and reliable if he's going to continue to be a featured runner.

If not, the Packers will explore other avenues at the position.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (34) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Mark's picture

I agree Brian and they probably will draft a RB I think Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray will be there in the 4th

CSS's picture

Would love to see what he offers when fully healthy, but your right to question his ability to stay that way. His running style and profile (6'2") don't exactly lend itself to minimizing contact. There's a reason running backs exceeding 6' with little 'wiggle' (assume a lot of square hits with minimal lateral movement) tend to get some negative reviews from scouts.

Next year is a big year for the kid. Loved what he did in the off-season to physically prepare for the game, let's see if he can commit mentally in this off-season.

Idiot Fan's picture

If I remember correctly, he started out his first year on PUP, and then last year there was no camp, so he still hasn't been through an offseason program yet. Now, he's been practicing during the year, so he should be progressing, but perhaps a full offseason of training with the staff will help him.

Being injury-prone, though, is another matter.

CSS's picture

I hear what you're saying, but he's still had access to all the film sessions, coaching sessions, position coaches sessions, game-plans and walk-throughs even when he's been injured.

Feels like using PUP as an excuse for his mental lapses really offers too much benefit of the doubt, especially considering his participation in 4 extra (and highly competitive) post-season games last year when the rest of the league was off.

fish/crane's picture

Are we talking about the same young man that was on the field, picking up huge blocks on some of the biggest plays in last year's Super Bowl run??? RB position has some challenges, but we need not fret so about James Starks.

NoWayJose's picture

Gotta look at the whole body of work. I think it's fair to says that Starks has been very up and down with regard to availability and production.

We can't fall in love in with what happened on the Super Bowl run and discount the larger body of work.

lebowski's picture

Sam Shields made huge plays during the Super Bowl run too. This year... not so much.

redlights's picture

Fret? Maybe. But I would prefer to let it slide a year.

First, our OLine isn't the best at run blocking. Second, our philosophy is to only run 10-15 times a game.

With all the options available, I'd, at most, bring in an undrafted FA for camp. Otherwise, offer Grant a non-guaranteed veteran's minimum with incentives; then let him, Starks, Green and Saine battle it out. Out of those four, we should be able to find two regular runners and a third down back. Plus, Kuhn isn't the worst runner in a pinch; IF they'd give him decent plays.

Focus on Defense and catching passes; plus develop the QB2 and QB3.

Brian Carriveau's picture

If all they're going to offer is the veteran's minimum, then Grant won't be back. There will be another team out there that will offer him more than that.

I don't believe he'll make anywhere near what he did in his last contract, but Grant deserves more than the veteran's minimum.

redlights's picture

You're right; but I did say with incentives.

Seems like more and more teams are understanding that you can bring in a young RB, push him, and sometimes an Arian Foster emerges. Why mess with a veteran when you can lock up a Chris Johnson for the same price?

jmac34's picture

I don't see Grant coming back unless he takes a rather large pay cut because there are more important players that need a new contract. The Packers might have been in a better position to draft a RB if the defense hadn't completely collapsed. The needs of the defense are much greater then that of the not often used RB.

Oppy's picture


Its often forgotten that Grant actually already took a substantial pay cut just this past off season (presumably to assure that he wouldn't be cut from the team.)

Basically, he has already undercut his contract worth, which could theoretically make negotiation a more reasonable contract extension an easier task than if he hadn't taken the pay cut this last season.

jmac34's picture

yet another reason i don't see grant back next year

Mojo's picture

Although he has missed time due to injury in his brief career, the event that lead to this years injury probably would have left most NFL players hospitalized. While his legs were pinned-down in the pile in the kneeling position, an a-hole TB player pushes him sideways and backwards, putting an amazing amount of stress on Starks joints. It's a wonder all his knee and ankle ligaments didn't rip apart. Instead a hobbled Starks is playing four days later against the Lions and off-and-on during the remainder of the year. Showed me a lot of guts and durability.

What is more concerning to me are the mental mistakes. He can't miss blocks, when A-Rods health is at stake. In fairness to Starks, as you mentioned, he never had much of a camp last year and very little prep time in this years strike shortened season. With his great attitude and finally some quality instruction time, Starks could consistently and effectively tote the pig.

And if Starks is "unhealthy", what does that make Green? It's tough to avoid injury in the NFL, unless you're playing in the Pro-bowl.

packsmack25's picture

I was about to say something similar. No amount of training would have prevented the injury this year.

Norman's picture

" It’s tough to avoid injury in the NFL, unless you’re playing in the Pro-bowl."

That's about the best line I've seen on this site all year. Kudos Mojo!

packsmack25's picture


Why in the HELL are there ads for that scummy traitor's site on here?

Brian Carriveau's picture

The ads on Cheesehead TV are targeted to the reader with cookies that track other websites you visit, etc.

The question might be, have you been reading up on the traitor? ;)

Lynn Dickey 12's picture

Please, no more Favre talk. :)

fish/crane's picture

SO that's why I see a lot of goat p*** ads here.

Bearmeat's picture


packsmack25's picture

I figured it out. I use Dolphin browser on my phone and have it set to deny cookies. It must be just randomizing ads. I never get them on my laptop.

packsmack25's picture

I'm viewing through my phone and avoid anything even mentioning his name. They missed their target.

Chip Soup's picture

Translation: Who, me?

ThePackerMan's picture

I think Grant is good as gone, Ted just doesnt care about running backs and is always on the youth movement. Starks is de facto starter, Saine and Green battle for third down back. RB gets drafted 6th round or later, most likely FA to "develop".

mark's picture

I will say this, for all of Ted Thompson's genius, the one that got away might have been Marshawn Lynch. I understand he's a bit of a loose cannon, but the guy is young, healthy and running hard. Would have been so nice to have him in Green Bay.

I do believe in Starks' ability, just not sure about his health.

redlights's picture

Lynch probably has as many carries in his career as Grant. Not a significant upgrade.

Nerd's Laptop's picture

Starks is fine. One of the players about whom I am least worried.

dgtalmn's picture

From what I have seen, I believe he'll be OK. But as for picking up another running back in the draft? Well we have seen TT goes for best player, so we might just get one. Would like to see some good competition.

Bearmeat's picture

I disagree with you on this one Brian.

Between Starks, Saine and Green - we're fine for the forseeable future. The way MM runs his offense, I'm not worried at all about the RB's. Grant is gone.

Agree with the commenter above: More emphasis on pass rush aquisition, tackling and catching the ball.

Super bowl next year.

Moving on.

SoTxPhil's picture

I think Starks has done a good job for the most part considering he is pretty inexperienced. It seems like maybe they could draft someone that is smaller, faster, and with some moves to make people miss once in awhile, just as a change of pace to what they have on the roster presently. Grant will have to take a pay cut to stay in GB. I like the way Saine played and picked up the offense quickly for a rookie. I am looking forward to seeing MM use Cobb in a lot more situations in 2012 instead of 2 passes per game. The New Orleans game gave everyone a taste of what can happen when he gets the ball in the open field.

Edward's picture

If Starks is the younger prototype of Grant, and Saine is our Brandon Jackson replacement, I agree with SoTxPhil--would be nice to have a Sproles-type back.

Can't give up on Alex Green, either. With Starks, Saine and Green, I think TT should focus on defense and maybe a QB to develop.

bdhustle's picture

What I expect to happen:
Starks, Saine and Green compete for the rb position with a late round pick and undrafted fa's in the mix. Green brought back only if he finds there is a very limited market for older backs and accepts an incentive laden contract. Kuhn also competing with late round pick/fa's for FB/RB slot. Basicly, no big changes.

What I would like to see happen:
Starks,Green, Saine and Kuhn compete for ?3 RB slots. A real change of pace back brought in - someone who is elusive. A true blocking fullback drafted in the later rounds - maybe the UW FB.

Edward's picture

I like Starks and I understand/appreciate the concerns about his performance. But I'm hoping we can chalk this up to a sophomore slump.

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