Green Bay Packers: How Ryan Grant's Impending Departure Will Affect the Offense?
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Ted Thompson certainly got his money's worth in the 2007 trade that sent a sixth-round pick to Grants' former team, the Giants.
Grant had an outstanding first three seasons with the Packers, averaging more than 1,100 rushing yards from 2007 to 2009, even making the 2010 Pro Bowl as an NFC alternate. The feature back was poised to continue his personal success and help push the Packers to the next level, but unfortunately, Grant suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 of the 2010 season.
In his absence, the Packers struggled to find a consistent running game, which led to an increase in passing plays for Aaron Rodgers and the young receiving corps.
Running backs Brandon Jackson and Dimitri Nance attempted to fill the void, and even fullback John Kuhn attempted to provide stability. But the regular season proved to be off-balance for the Packers, as Jackson led the team with just over 700 yards, and Rodgers and Kuhn led the team with four rushing touchdowns each.
We all remember the Packers' historic playoff run, but sometimes forgotten is the emergence of running back James Starks, who began the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
After just rushing for 101 yards in the regular season, Starks exploded in the Wild Card game. Starks provided balance to the Packers' offense by leading the team with 123 yards, and eventually, throughout the playoffs, he totaled 315 rushing yards and a touchdown, as Green Bay became the Super Bowl Champions.
Packers fans were optimistic that the returning Grant would create an excellent 1-2 punch with the young Starks, as Coach Mike McCarthy would be able to keep both backs fresh.
However, it seemed Grant's previous injury severely limited him, as he gained just 559 rushing yards on the season and only cracking 60 yards three times. While his touches were down to just 134, he did maintain a 4.2 yards per attempt average.
Grant's contract expired this offseason, making him a free agent. While there were thoughts that the Packers would retain his services, as Starks also failed to make a impact in the 2011 regular season (578 rushing yards, 1 TD), the Packers supposedly failed to offer their former starting back a new deal, instead opting to go with Starks, 2011 draft pick Alex Green and Brandon Saine at halfback.
After Grant received little interest at the start of free agency, it appears that teams have begun contacting him to gauge his interest. Besides the rival Lions, teams such as the Raiders, Patriots and Dolphins have either brought him in for interviews or expressed interest to his player rep.
With the Packers failing to draft a running back (although they signed former USC Trojan Marc Tyler as an undrafted free agent) or sign a veteran in free agency, how will the loss of Grant impact the 2012 Packers season?
Most likely, it will have little impact as Starks will have a more prominent role and will provide opportunities to finally see speedster Alex Green in action. It appears as though the Packers are more than impressed with Starks.
Will the Packers miss Ryan Grant for the 2012 Season?
While Aaron Rodgers had an MVP season last year, in order for the Packers to ultimately win their fifth Super Bowl, consistency and production are vital from the running back position. Having a real threat there will further allow Rodgers to pick apart opposing defenses, and D-coordinators may have to put more defenders upfront and blitz less.
The timeshare between Starks and Grant proved to be painful, as no Packer broke 100 yards in a single game, and Starks ranked only 38th in the league in rushing with his 578 yards.
Now that Starks has become the starting back, hopefully he will prove to be successful and change the way opposing defenses play the Packers. Starks also was vital on third down, as he was clearly a better pass protector than Grant.
If the offense becomes more balanced and perhaps begins to take more time in scoring drives, it will help alleviate the pressure put on the Packers defense who ranked in the bottom fifth in the league in 2011.
I'm also highly interested in what the Packers have in Green, as he will be given more opportunities to prove his draft selection.
So what will Grant's new team get from this former Packer?
I believe that Grant can prove to be a feature back again, if given the right opportunity. Perhaps, he'd do well not as a primary back and where less is expected of him.
He's lost some of his 4.43 speed, so having a better offensive line will be a necessity for him to be successful.
Believe it or not, the Lions are the most intriguing possibility for Grant as they have injury questions with all of their young backs. Jahvid Best is still recovering from his concussions, Mikel Leshoure missed his entire rookie season with a ACL tear and Kevin Smith has never been healthy.
Thanks for the read, and please follow me on Twitter @metta_colin
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