The Green Bay Packers have transformed their running back position from a big weakness to a huge strength in about a year.
If somebody would have said at this time last year that the Packers would have one of the best running back groups in the NFL you would have thought that they were crazy. However, right now it is the absolute truth.
Earlier this week, Green Bay signed running back James Starks to a two-year, $3.17 million contract. The prevailing thought was that that Starks would be offered a chance at increased playing time elsewhere after performing very well as Eddie Lacy’s backup. However, that proved not to be the case and the Packers retained Starks in a steal of a deal.
Starks leaving would not have been a devastating loss with even more good depth behind him, but getting him back is a really nice luxury. You can never have too many running backs and Lacy and Starks gives them a powerful duo at the position.
Lacy received all the attention for Green Bay’s vastly improved running game, and he deserved it. However, the drop off to Starks was not huge when Lacy was having issues with his ankle at the end of the year or when he just needed a breather.
Starks had 493 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 89 carries last season. His 5.5 yards per carry would have led the NFL had he had enough attempts to qualify. Starks didn’t get a ton of carries because Lacy is such a workhorse, but he should have gotten more down the stretch when Lacy was not fully healthy.
Pro Football Focus gave Starks a +5.6 overall grade for the season and tweeted that averaged 3.0 yards after contact, which was more than Adrian Peterson and all but three other running backs. Starks also forced 22 missed tackles on 99 total touches, which was also fourth among all running backs.
This is a small sample size, but those numbers are still very impressive. This might be the best role for Starks, since when he has been the main guy he has been unable to stay healthy. However, it would have been very interesting to see if he could duplicate those numbers starting on another team.
At 6-foot-2, Starks is a very tall and lean back who has an up right running style. He is not a speed burner, but he can certainly run through people. It is also a lot easier for him to run through defenders after Lacy has already been pounding them.
The Packers have one of the best young running backs in the NFL in Lacy and one of the best backups in Starks. They also have great depth behind those players in Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris.
Franklin and Harris have both showed flashes of potential in the NFL. Franklin didn’t receive many opportunities last season, but he did run for 103 yards in a Week 3 loss at Cincinnati. Green Bay traded up for Franklin in the 4th round of last year’s draft after already selecting Lacy, so you know they really saw something in him.
Harris had 157 yards on 34 carries in four games down the stretch for the Packers in 2012. Mike McCarthy was very high on him and said that he was entering last season as the starter. However, Harris hurt his knee in offseason workouts and never played a down in 2013.
The Packers will always be known as Aaron Rodgers’ team, but now they can have a more balanced offense. Rodgers and this core of running backs is something opposing defenses should be losing sleep over.
Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.