John Kuhn, Potentially The Next Third-Down Back

With Brandon Jackson off to Cleveland, it might have become that much more important for the Packers to sign John Kuhn.

With news that Brandon Jackson has agreed to a contract with the Cleveland Browns, it might have become that much more important for the Packers to re-sign John Kuhn.

Kuhn would more than fill the fullback and short-yardage roles he's held for the past couple seasons, but his real value might come on third downs.

The 6-0, 250 pound Kuhn doesn't exactly fit the mold of what people might traditionally think of as a third-down back, but with the way the Packers chuck the ball all around the field, his value as a pass blocker and receiver becomes even more important.

Jackson may not have been the ball carrier the Packers had hoped he'd be when they drafted him, but he definitely proved his worth as a pass protector and receiver on the Packers' run to the Super Bowl last season.

There's every possibility that guys like James Starks and sixth-round draft choice Alex Green could develop into good third-down backs as well, but as of yet, they're unproven. Starks struggled in pass pro in limited action last year and Green hasn't even taken a snap in the NFL yet, not to mention he's behind the proverbial eight ball with the lack of offseason workouts to prepare him.

In that regard, the Packers would rely on Kuhn, if re-signed, especially early in the season until––and if––Starks and Green develop.

Kuhn has experience as well. As the 2010 season wore on, it became a regular occurrence to see both Kuhn and Jackson flanking either side of Aaron Rodgers in a shotgun formation.

Going back to the qualities of a third-down back, it's interesting to see how that specialized position has evolved. It was a generally held conception that a third-down back was a quick, scatback type.

But as the Packers are showing, elusiveness and ball-carrying ability are a little further down the list of talents a third-down back might possess. Of utmost importance are pass protection skills and the ability to catch the ball as a check-down receiver.

When Kuhn receives a contract offer, whether it's with the Packers or not, it will be indicative of how much those skills are valued.

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Comments (10)

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CSS's picture

July 29, 2011 at 10:50 am

Brian, do you (or whomever) know how often the Packers went empty backfield on 3rd down sets? Rodgers has been so good against the blitz and on 3rd/4th downs I'm wondering if they value a possible h-back like Williams or running back like Green/Starks that can audible into an empty set more than a guy like Kuhn squating in pass pro.

I'm all for minimizing the hits Rodgers takes that accompanies his hi QB rating on those downs and against the blitz, but the team looks like it's just as content to send out 5 receiving options more so than pass pro from a '3rd down back'. Just curious.

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Brian Carriveau's picture

July 29, 2011 at 10:54 am

I don't have exact statistics, but I know that it was pretty rare. They didn't use the "Big Five" formation all that much. And even when they had no running back in the game, they would occasionally use a tight end lined up in the backfield. So it didn't happen very often.

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CSS's picture

July 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

Thank you.

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PackersRS's picture

July 29, 2011 at 11:27 am

Not strickly on 3rd downs, but the Packers were the #2 team in empty backfield usages.
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2011/formation-analysis-e...

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bryce's picture

July 29, 2011 at 11:28 am

Yeah, I hope they resign him. They need to stop bleeding UFA's so badly. He's one that it would be nice to keep, and hopefully affordable.

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MarkinMadison's picture

July 29, 2011 at 11:46 am

Nobody gone yet that was expected to stay.

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bogmon's picture

July 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

The Chillar release was a bit of a surprise to me.

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bogmon's picture

July 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm

With Grant and Starks splitting carries it definitely makes sense to use Kuhn in the third down sets. He's versatile; tuff;smart; has good hands; and a solid blocker.
He may not see the the kind of goal line/ short yardage carries he received last season but he is skilled enough to transition his game to other areas that help the team in crucial short yardage situations.

plus....we love Kuhn...he's a folk hero!

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atheist4thecause's picture

July 29, 2011 at 03:36 pm

Kuhn has been effective, but I think GNB could do without him. Teams have to take chances, and going into the season with Starks and Green as the 3rd down back is a reasonable risk. Starks was good at catching the ball and picking up the blitz in college, and Green obviously has a lot of experience with catching the ball and pass protecting. I'd be surprised if one of them didn't step up. Having said that, Kuhn has been productive and gets the team going in the clutch.

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Nononsense's picture

July 29, 2011 at 05:26 pm

With almost any RB pass protection takes time to learn, its not if B Jax was great at it his first 2 seasons.

Starks I thought was more than fine in pass pro last season. I maybe remember 1 time where he clearly got beat, other than that he has the size and the smarts to do the job just fine.

I would like to see Kuhn resigned because hes a proven guy and can definitely handle the job if no one else can.

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