Packers Depth Chart: Offensive Backfield
With just a short month between now and training camp, the Packers depth chart is still jam packed with talent. And with all that talent comes some players who need some of the spotlight to get fans excited about them. And now, with the second edition of this breakdown, we hit the offensive backfield.
For this series, which will finish by training camp starts, we will look at each and every player on the roster, breaking down their strengths, weaknesses, their role, and their best and worst case scenarios. I will also project their role. Let’s dive into the depths of the Packers pool of talent.
Previous posts: Full Roster
#27 EDDIE LACY, RB
5’11” 234 lbs. Age 26 (4th season)
Drafted in the 2nd Round (61st Overall) in 2013 from Alabama
Strengths: Lacy is a true power runner in the mold of Marshawn Lynch or a poor man’s Earl Campbell, capable of running over any defender and usually leaving a trail of would-be tacklers in his wake. And in his first two season he could combine his power with great agility and good enough speed to break big runs. He is also a very good receiver out of the backfield though he needs help with his route running.
Weaknesses: The big story all last season and this offseason has been his weight and his conditioning. He was way too big last year and it hampered all aspects of his game, from his balance to his agility to even his power as he couldn’t get up to steam quick enough. If he gets back to his typical playing weight from his first two seasons the only knock on Eddie is his breakaway speed. He isn’t likely to break many 70+ yard runs.
Underrated Attribute: Hands out of the backfield. Eddie has been a good safety net for Aaron Rodgers in recent seasons.
Role: Starting running back.
Best Case: Eddie returns to camp in the best shape of his life and cashes in on his contract season with a 1300 yard season and an All-Pro nod.
Worst Case: Eddie remains out of shape and struggles to hit four yards per carry and 700 yards. He is then let go as a free agent.
Projection: Closer to the best case. I think he regains his starting job full time and hits 4.5 yard per carry and 1200 yards.
#44 JAMES STARKS, RB
6’2” 218 lbs. Age 30 (7th Season)
Drafted in the 6th Round (193rd Overall) in 2010 from Buffalo
Strengths: Starks is a quick, agile back who excels at making people miss in space. With a quick plant foot and jab, the veteran back makes some great tacklers look foolish. He also is a solid blocker in the passing game and has decent hands. As a power runner, he uses his 6’2” frame to hit his tacklers early and not let them wrap up, consistently falling forward.
Weaknesses: Starks has never shown that ability to be “the guy” that can lead a backfield after is breakthrough playoffs in 2011. He occasionally focuses too much on making the flashy play, allowing backside tacklers to bring him down easily. He also started to find some fumbling issues creep into his game last season. He also has an injury history but played in all 16 games the past two seasons.
Underrated Attribute: Length. His long arms and legs give him a head up on driving piles forward and falling forward for extra yards.
Role: Change of pace back, strong #2 runner.
Best Case: Starks uses his #2 back status to his benefit, gashing defenses during drives where he is the featured guy, setting a new career high in yard with close to 700.
Worst Case: He gets hurt of get the fumbles again and gets demoted to third string.
Projection: Starks will be the #2 back and be that home run hitting change of pace behind Eddie Lacy.
#38 JOHN CROCKETT, RB
6’0” 217 lbs. Age 24 (2nd Season)
Signed as an undrafted free agent on May 8, 2015 from North Dakota State
Strengths: Crockett is lightning quick and the closest thing the Packers have to a true third down back. With good agility and good vision, he had the potential to be a dynamo out of the backfield similar to Jerick McKinnon. An at 217 pounds he can lower his shoulder when needed, but most of his game is predicated on speed and making tacklers miss. He also is a good receiver and has return experience.
Weaknesses: Crockett is still very unproven with only 2 NFL games under his belt and at times struggles with linebackers. He can be taken down by one guy and needed time to find a lane last year. As he gets more experience that should improve. Also, his style and slight frame also might make his durability an issue.
Underrated Attribute: Maturity. Crockett was a leader in college and showed great maturity in camp last year and during his time on the practice squad.
Role: Change of pace third down back and special teamer.
Best Case: Crockett excels in camp and get playing time in every game, getting a handful of carries and catches as well as being a top special teamer.
Worst Case: Crockett doesn’t improve from last year and is beat out by the rookie backs and gets cut in the final days of camp.
Projection: Crockett will make the team as the third back and be a matchup play as far as gameday actives go.
#26 DON JACKSON, RB
5’10” 208 lbs. Age 22 (Rookie)
Signed as an undrafted free agent on May 6, 2016 from Nevada
Strengths: Patient runner who excels at finding creases in the line and exploding through gaps. Good speed and is capable of breaking the big run. Good at breaking tackles and sets up tacklers well in the open field. Jackson is also a solid blocker and receiver with potential to really develop over time.
Weaknesses: Jackson is good at breaking tackles in the open field but struggles in traffic. He can be brought down by one guy and doesn’t always turn the corner at the best speed.
Underrated Attribute: Selling play action. Jackson was known at Nevada for being a master at selling the play action pass.
Role: Potential third running back and special teamer.
Best Case: Jackson makes the roster over Crockett and takes his role as the pass receiving back and special teams dynamo.
Worst Case: Jackson struggles to find holes in drills and doesn’t show enough in preseason to warrant survival past the first cutdowns.
Projection: Jackson makes it to the final cut but is one of the final five guys let go but sticks on the practice squad.
#34 BRANDON BURKS, RB
5’9” 208 lbs. Age 22 (Rookie)
Signed as an undrafted free agent on May 9, 2016 from Troy
Strengths: Burks is the smallest back on the team but is a sturdy runner who uses his frame to his advantage. Explodes through the hole and makes sharp cuts to find the open field. Has the speed to turn the corner and is able to square up to hits well. A decent receiver who has a knack for getting open and a good blocker.
Weaknesses: Size is a detriment at times and he can struggle to break from the first hit. He also struggles with his hands despite getting open and has had ball security issues in his college career.
Underrated Attribute: Squares up pads to deliver a hit as he’s taking a shot.
Role: Potential third back and special teams player.
Best Case: Same as Jackson. Burks outplayed the other young backs and wins the third back spot. He becomes the third down back and is an asset on kick return teams.
Worst Case: Burks ball security issues re-surface and he doesn’t make it past first cuts.
Projection: Burks makes it to the final preseason game but doesn’t make it past final cuts. He ends up being a priority free agent and a potential practice squad candidate.
#22 AARON RIPKOWSKI, FB
6’1” 246 lbs. Age 23 (2nd Season)
Drafted in the 6th Round (206th Overall) in 2015
Strengths: A road grader in every sense of the word, Ripkowski is a throwback fullback who relishes making defenders pay for stepping up into the hold. He is very similar to Lorenzo Neal in his playing style and shows great tenacity on offense and on special teams. He also has soft hands, evidenced by his 18 yard reception last year in his only offensive action.
Weaknesses: Not a well-rounded fullback yet, doesn’t have the speed of hybrid fullbacks and isn’t very effective as a runner. Also tries to make the pancake block too much and can get beaten by counter moves.
Underrated Attribute: Mean streak. Ripkowski wants to rip defenders heads off when he blocks.
Role: Starting fullback and lead blocker.
Best Case: Ripkowski makes Packer fans stop chanting for John Kuhn and seizes the starting job and has it for the next decade.
Worst Case: “Rip” doesn’t show any development from last year and struggles on offense. His special teams prowess isn’t enough and he is a victim of the final cuts.
Projection: Ripkowski will be the starting fullback and will get Aaron Rodgers trust by Week 1.
#40 ALSTEVIS SQUIREWELL, FB
6’0” 265 lbs. Age 23 (Rookie)
Signed as an undrafted free agent on May 9, 2016 from Newberry College
Strengths: A college defensive lineman, Squirewell is immensely strong and can drive through lineman. He also shows surprising agility for his size and position, returning an interception last season 32 yards for a touchdown with a broken hand.
Weaknesses: Switching positions is never easy and Squirewell needs a lot of work to be an NFL fullback. He needs to work on all the fundamentals, from finding the running lanes to making the blocks. It is a tough transition both physically and mentally to blocking tacklers instead of actually doing the tackling.
Underrated Attribute: Toughness. He is known for breaking his hand early in a game last year and staying in the game to make a couple of key tackles and a pick-six.
Role: Camp body with practice squad potential.
Best Case: Squirewell impresses in camp and makes the practice squad as a developmental fullback and emergency option for Ripkowski.
Worst Case: Squirewell doesn’t adjust to offense and doesn’t make it past the first round of cuts.
Projection: With the battles at other positions more heated, I don’t see Squirewell making it past the first round of cuts.
Summarizing my projections:
First Cuts: Squirewell
Final Cuts: Burks, Jackson
Making the team: Lacy, Starks, Crockett, Ripkowski
With the top two backs set in Lacy and Starks, there is a strong competition for the third running back spot and a potential practice squad position or a job with another team. It will be a focal point of the preseason with that much talent in Green Bay. Next Wednesday we get to another skill position, one that is potentially the most divisive among fans this offseason: The Wide Receivers.——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.