About a week after training camp started for the Green Bay Packers, James Starks sits comfortably at the top of the depth chart at running back.
Behind him are second-year pros Alex Green and Brandon Saine, followed by rookie free agents Duane Bennett and Marc Tyler. None of the players listed are expected to challenge Starks for the starting—and rightfully so.
The biggest challengers are Green and Saine, as they're borderline locks to make the roster. Tyler is currently nursing an injury and seems to be behind Bennett, who'll have to prove that he does enough on special teams to make the roster.
The lesser of the two "challengers" is Saine. Last year, he got called up from the practice squad late in the season after Green suffered a torn ACL, which we'll get to later.
Saine's fortes are his consistency and third-down ability. Coach Mike McCarthy praised Saine's consistency during OTAs to Vic Ketchman of Packers.com, and his ability as a receiver and pass-protector landed him a role late last season.
Unfortunately for the Ohio State product, he isn't a great runner by any means, so he should be relegated to third-down duties, which he should win.
The most formidable challenger to Starks is Green, but he shouldn't challenge Starks until midseason at best.
Green, a 2011 third-round pick out of Hawaii, saw little action his rookie year before tearing his ACL in late October. While perhaps a more explosive runner than Starks, an ACL tear is a devastating injury for a running back, and it remains to be seen how well the second-year back will fare in preseason games.
Green has been somewhat limited by the coaching staff, but the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Wes Hodkiewicz reports that Green has looked explosive so far in camp. Still, coming off a big injury won't give Green enough time to unseat Starks as the top running back, and may also handicap his workload early on in the season.
Then, finally, we have Starks.
The Packers reaffirmed their faith in their running backs this offseason by not re-signing Ryan Grant or taking a flier on Cedric Benson, who'd only cost slightly more than the veteran's minimum.
Starks, who's down to seven percent body fat, is by far the most proven runner in Green Bay's backfield.
Although he's been injured and missed multiple games each year, including 13 his rookie season and three this past season, he's still seen more action than any runner on the Packers' roster.
His 6'2", 218-pound frame is big for a running back and benefits his powerful running style when healthy.
With Green unproven and likely unable to challenge Starks for the starting job due to the nature of his previous injury, Starks will open the 2012 season as the starting running back barring a massive implosion.
If healthy, Starks could push for close to 1,000 yards, something that the others running backs in their current state couldn't do.
There's little doubt that the third-year back out of Buffalo will be the starting RB, and similarly little doubt that he should be.
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