How Concerned Should the Green Bay Packers Be About Eddie Lacy's Toe History?

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IMay 10, 2013

November 24, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide running back Eddie Lacy (42) carries for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The reason behind Eddie Lacy's fall in the 2013 NFL draft is no longer a secret. 

Thanks to concerns over Lacy's injury history in his big toe—which two teams have publicly expressed their internal thought-processes about—the former Alabama running back fell to the Green Bay Packers at No. 61 overall.

Whether the Packers should be concerned about the toe is an exercise in both who you talk to and risk and reward.

If you ask the Denver Broncos or Pittsburgh Steelers, Lacy's toe history was significant enough for the teams to pass him over for other second-round running backs.

According to Lindsey Jones of USA Today, the Broncos "liked" Lacy but backed off because of the toe and the resulting fear in how many years the injury would restrict him to. 

Denver was offered two different opportunities to select Lacy—one in the first and again in the second—but passed both times. Then, they took Wisconsin running back Montee Ball at No. 58 overall. 

However, the Broncos weren't the first franchise with a chance to get Lacy who were leery about the toe injury.

Just days after the draft, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that the Steelers "would not touch" Lacy because of his toe fusion surgery at Alabama. 

Prior to the draft, the Steelers were a popular landing spot for Lacy. But much like the Broncos, Pittsburgh passed on him twice in the first two rounds. Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell was their pick at No. 48 overall. 

Even the Packers, who originally had the No. 55 pick and the opportunity to pick Lacy, first bypassed the chance when they traded down in the second round. When Lacy was still available at No. 61 overall—or the 29th overall pick in the second round—the value was too much for the running back-starved Packers to pass on again.

However, the reluctance of all three teams to take Lacy presents a messy picture in determining just how serious the toe fusion will be long term.

According to Lacy's former Alabama doctor, the concern should be minimal. 

In an interview with Ty Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dr. E. Lyle Cain, Jr. said he expects Lacy to have a long and productive career in which the toe presents little problems. He also said other players have completed the same procedure and still went on to have "highly successful NFL careers," although no specific names were mentioned.

Also, Cain explained the surgery—and how it wasn't a complete toe fusion—to Dunne:

The joint underneath the toenail was fused to allow the ligament to work better, basically. It's something you do to give you a better push-off. His big toe moves just like a normal big toe in terms of motion. If you fused it completely, it'd give you a stiff big toe and you can't push off, and that's a big problem. In Eddie's case, he does not have that. His fusion does not affect his big-toe motion.

Cain paints a much more specific—and in the Packers case, a much more optimistic—outlook for the long-term health in Lacy's toe.

The Packers have said very little publicly about Lacy's injury history, but team doctors obviously felt strong enough that the fusion wouldn't be a serious problem down the road. For as much as general manager Ted Thompson treasures draft picks, it would be irresponsible to think he would throw away a top pick on a player who's staff didn't have confidence in and could stay healthy and play a long time in the NFL. 

That said, the Packers did move up in the fourth round to take UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, which could be seen as either a smart value pick or insurance for Lacy, or both. 

And like Franklin, Thompson likely saw Lacy as what he is: a value pick in his respective round not worth passing on. 

While the likes of Franklin, Gio Bernard and Bell had their supporters, Lacy was widely-viewed as the draft's top running back, at least talent-wise.

A well-built, bruising back with deceptive foot quickness and patience, Lacy enters the NFL as a prototypical player at the position. He's also skilled out of the backfield and a good pass protector, two areas that are obviously very important to the Packers offense.

While running back has never been viewed as a priority position in Green Bay, the 2012 season likely opened the eyes in the offensive meeting rooms.

With the Packers facing as many two-high safety looks as any passing offense in the NFL, even former MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers struggled to hit on big plays. The Packers needed a back who can draw defenses out of conservative looks and open up the field for Rodgers. 

If healthy, Lacy should be exactly that for the Packers.

While health—and in particular, the longevity of the big toe—is the big question for Lacy, the Packers obviously felt strong enough in their own internal evaluation of the injury that Lacy was worth the risk at No. 61 overall. 

The toe may always be a concern (despite what a likely biased team doctor says), but Lacy's talent and fit tilted the risk-reward scales in his favor with the Packers.