Running Backs the Packers Should Target in the 2013 NFL Draft
The offense wasn't the reason why the Green Bay Packers' season ended in the divisional round of the playoffs in San Francisco, but the running back position is among the team's biggest needs headed into the NFL draft.
To start the year, veteran Cedric Benson the was team's starting running back. But after suffering a Lisfranc injury in Week 5 at Houston, Benson's season came to an end, perhaps along with his future in Green Bay.
After Benson's injury, Alex Green and James Starks each saw time in the starting lineup. Neither player took full advantage of the opportunity, opening the door for DuJuan Harris to emerge late in the season.
Harris will be a part of the Packers' offense next season, but the team is likely to bring in a rookie to compete with him.
This year's draft doesn't have a Trent Richardson or an Adrian Peterson in the top 10, but it boasts a deep and diverse crop of running backs capable of helping an NFL offense immediately. The Packers will have the chance to add a power runner like Eddie Lacy or a speed guy like Johnathan Franklin. Either player could help the team in some capacity next season.
Let's take a look at five running backs the Packers should target in the NFL draft.
5. Eddie Lacy (Alabama)
Considered by most to be the No. 1 running back in this year's draft, Eddie Lacy enters the NFL after a dominant performance against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship.
In recent years, Alabama has been a NFL running back factory. Trent Richardson was drafted with the No. 3 overall pick last year, and Mark Ingram was the No. 28 overall pick in 2011. Lacy has a chance to come off the board in the first 32 picks this year, but there is a wide variety of opinions on him.
The Packers could consider spending the 26th pick on Lacy, giving them a "thunder and lightning" combination in the backfield along with DuJuan Harris. Lacy is a big, bruising back with 4.6 speed and would help cure the team's short-yardage problems.
Harris was impressive late in the season, but he's only appeared in six games with the Packers and hasn't shown much of anything as a receiver. John Kuhn is a folk hero of sorts in Green Bay, but the fourth-and-one Kuhn plunge has run its course.
After a sluggish pro day workout, No. 26 may be a little too high for Lacy. And unless he falls to the team with the 55th overall pick in the second round, the Packers may be in no man's land in regards to adding Lacy.
4. Christine Michael (Texas A&M)
Despite having serious concerns regarding his character, Christine Michael is one of the most talented runners in the 2013 NFL draft.
According to TFY Draft Insider Tony Pauline, Michael is one of what could potentially be six running backs selected in the second round. Others, like Lance Zierlein of the National Football Post, have suggested that his red flags could cause him to fall to the fourth round.
In any case, Michael would be a nice fit with the Packers.
While most teams take character into consideration during the draft process, the Packers are increasingly cautious with the idea of bringing a malcontent into their locker room. So at first glance, adding Michael to the roster would seem to be like fitting a square peg into a round hole.
But the Packers have an obvious need at running back, and there's a slight chance Michael could fall into their lap on Day 3. In all likelihood, a team will look past Michael's issues and take him in round two, but if he's still sitting there when the Packers are on the clock on Day 3, he'd at least merit their consideration.
3. Johnathan Franklin (UCLA)
In the past three years, there haven't been many college running backs as productive as UCLA's Johnathan Franklin. Capped off by a senior season in which he racked up 2,056 yards and 15 total touchdowns, Franklin now looks to conquer defenses at the NFL level.
And along with several other running backs, Franklin is a candidate to come off the board as early as the second round. At the very latest, Franklin will come off the board at the end of round three.
Franklin is the No. 81 overall prospect on Matt Miller's big board.
Common fans seem to prefer having a bigger guy to complement a smaller running back. And with DuJuan Harris (5'9", 208 lbs) returning to the field in some capacity next season, many Packers fans seem to be banging the table for some thunder to Harris' lightning.
But as long as you have multiple runners to keep each other's legs fresh, I'm not sure size is a necessary requirement. It's not as if Harris is incapable of gaining one yard on 3rd-and-short.
While the Packers have plenty of dangerous weapons on the perimeter, adding Franklin to the fold would give them a true home run threat from the backfield. Having such a dangerous weapon at running back would take some pressure off Aaron Rodgers and in turn, the offensive line.
2. Le'Veon Bell (Michigan State)
Running backs come in all shapes and sizes; for every "Pocket Hercules" in Doug Martin, there's a LeGarrette Blount. For every Jacquizz Rodgers, there's a Michael Turner.
And while the draft's crop of running backs lacks true star power at the top, Michigan State bruiser Le'Veon Bell is a unique player capable of helping an NFL team immediately. There are plenty of smaller backs available, such as Johnathan Franklin and Andre Ellington, but Bell is in a class of his own.
Bell isn't listed among the top 100 players on Matt Miller's big board, but others, such as NFL.com's Gil Brandt, have suggested Bell could come off the board at the top of the second round.
Pairing Bell with DuJuan Harris would give the Packers two very different runners in their backfield. The biggest weakness to Harris's game is his size, which may be Bell's biggest asset.
On top of being perhaps the draft's best short-yardage back, Bell is a solid receiver out of the backfield. In the past two years as the Spartans' starter, Bell caught a combined 67 passes.
At this point, it looks like the latest Bell will come off the board is the middle of round three, so the Packers would likely have to invest their second-round pick to land him. And if he reaches his ceiling, he's well worth the No. 55 pick.
1. Giovani Bernard (North Carolina)
Entering the draft after just two years of major college football would seem to be a concern, but at the running back position, that's not necessarily the case.
North Carolina running back Gio Bernard enters the 2013 NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, and with his perceived inexperience comes a lack of mileage on his tires. And for a team looking for a long-term starting running back, Bernard should make a team very happy as a second-round pick.
The Packers have a clear need at running back. Head coach Mike McCarthy has suggested DuJuan Harris will be one half of the team's rushing attack in 2013. But with Cedric Benson currently an unrestricted free agent and uncertainty surrounding the rest of their running backs, the Packers will likely be in the market for a complementary back in the draft to pair with Harris.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, the Packers will rely heavily on the passing game. Bernard is likely the best receiving running back in the draft, evidenced by his 92 catches the past two seasons with the Tar Heels.
The Packers haven't had an all-around back in terms of running between the tackles and catching the ball out of the backfield since Ahman Green in his prime. Bernard would step in and have an impact on the Packers' offense immediately as a rookie.
And with budding star Randall Cobb likely on the verge of being taken off special teams, Bernard could replace him as the team's primary return man in his first NFL season. And given the chance to develop, Bernard's ceiling is as high as any running back in this year's draft.