Revisiting Eddie Lacy's Breakout Rookie Season for the Green Bay Packers

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJanuary 25, 2014

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) celebrates his touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Appreciation for Eddie Lacy's rookie season with the Green Bay Packers can come in multiple forms. 

There's a more singular look, in which Lacy's first year can be valued for exactly what it was: a vastly productive season that saw the former Alabama running back rush for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns despite MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers missing the better part of eight games.

But there's also a wider look, one that takes into account how badly—and for how long—the Packers struggled running the football before Lacy arrived and how drastically improved they were once he stepped foot in Green Bay. 

Neither is more important than the other, but together, they create what was likely the most impressive rookie season by a member of the Packers since John Brockington in 1971.

And yes, that includes Casey Hayward's six-pick season in 2012, Clay Matthews' 10-sack year in 2009, Nick Barnett's 112-tackle campaign in 2003, Mike McKenzie's six-interception year in 1999, Vonnie Holliday's eight-sack season in 1998 and Tom Flynn's nine-pick campaign in 1984. 

Lacy, the 61st pick in last April's draft, was just that good. 

Revisiting Eddie Lacy's Rookie Season
TotalNFL Rank
Rushing Yards1,1878th
Yards After Contact6476th
Missed Tackles Forced564th
Rushing Touhdowns113rd
QB Disruptions Allowed33rd
100-Yard Games45th
Fumbles (min. 200 carries)11st
Source: Pro Football Focus

A Week 1 starter, Lacy ended up playing in 15 games in 2013 and receiving a total of 689 snaps, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Ten other running backs played more snaps, although only three received more carries than Lacy's 284 (Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy). 

Despite dealing with a concussion that cost him one game and most of another and an ankle injury that lingered throughout the latter part of the season, Lacy still ran for 1,178 yards—eighth most in the NFL.

If you count him for just 14 games played—a fair assessment considering he was knocked out of Week 2 after one carry—his average rushing yards per game of 84.1 would have trailed only Jamaal Charles (85.8) and McCoy (90.4). 

His 647 yards after contact ranked sixth, and only Lynch and Charles (12) ran for more touchdowns than Lacy's 11. 

Of his 11 touchdowns, seven came after Rodgers suffered a fractured collarbone in Week 9. From that game through Week 16, Lacy ran for 669 yards, or an average of almost 84 a game. Only McCoy rushed for more yards than Lacy from Week 5 on. 

Using power to run through and the game's best spin move to go around, Lacy broke 56 tackle attempts (fourth most) in the running game and another five as a receiver. He averaged 2.3 yards after contact and fumbled just once, leaving him and McCoy as the only running backs with more than 250 carries and just one fumble in 2013.

Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

Lacy's only fumble came on his fifth career carry in Week 1. His next 300 carries—including the playoffs—ended without incident. 

Lacy also showed some long speed, breaking off two carries over 55 yards (60, 56) and another 37-yarder. He finished with nine carries over 15 yards. And his 60-yard sprint against the Dallas Cowboys helped spark a 23-point comeback. 

In the passing game, Lacy caught 35 of 42 targets and dropped just two, good for an overall catch percentage of 84.1. His 35 receptions netted just 264 yards, but he gained 329 yards after the catch—which highlighted his effectiveness in the screen game. Three of his catches went for over 20 yards. 

Few backs in the NFL were better in pass protection, which is generally a difficult area for rookie backs. Lacy was asked to pass block 110 times (10th most), and he allowed just three total pressures—one quarterback hit and two hurries. His pass-blocking efficiency ranked behind only Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew among backs with at least 85 blocking snaps, per PFF. 

For the totality of his individual efforts, Lacy is likely to win NFL Offensive Rookie of Year. 

But making Lacy's season even more special was how poor the Packers have been running the football before he arrived. 

In the seven years under Mike McCarthy prior to 2013, the Packers ranked (in order) 23rd, 21st, 17th, 14th, 24th, 27th and 20th in total rushing yards. Not once did Green Bay finish higher than 14th in rushing attempts or 13th in yards per attempt. 

The numbers bottomed out from 2010 to 2012, when the Packers ranked 26th in total rushing (4,866 yards), 29th in yards per carry (3.9) and 21st in rushing touchdowns (32). 

Before Lacy: Packers Rushing Totals from 2006-12
AttemptsRankRushing YardsRankYards/CarryRank
Source: Pro Football Reference

In 2010, third-down back Brandon Jackson led the Packers with 703 rushing yards. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 43.9 yards per game, while Green Bay ranked 25th in overall yards per carry (3.8). 

The next season, the Packers were led by the 559 yards from Ryan Grant and the 578 from James Starks. Green Bay's otherwise prolific offense finished 26th in attempts and 27th in yards per carry. 

The 2012 season saw a rise up the rankings, as the Packers finished with the 16th-most attempts and a three-year high for rushing yards (1,702). But the offense still averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and did not have a rusher go over 500 yards. 

Enough was enough, and the Packers finally committed to getting better running the football in 2013. Lacy was at the center of it all. 

Packers general manager Ted Thompson took Lacy with the 61st overall selection, the highest he'd ever used a pick on a running back. Previously, Thompson took Jackson with the 63rd overall pick in 2007 and Alex Green with the 96th pick in 2011. 

The Lacy-led running game in 2013 was a revelation. 

The Packers ran the football 459 times at a 4.7-yard clip for 2,136 total yards, all season highs for a McCarthy offense. The 17 rushing touchdowns trailed only the 20 scored by the Packers in 2009. 

By the end of 16 games, Green Bay was ranked 12th in rushing attempts, seventh in rushing yards, fifth in rushing touchdowns and fourth in yards per carry. All four ranks were new high-water marks for McCarthy. 

Green Bay's 133.5 rushing yards per game was the franchise's best since 2003 and the sixth-best mark since 1970. Five times the Packers ran for more than 180 yards, which led the NFL. And five of the team's six-highest single-game rushing totals since 2009 came in 2013. 

A team void of a 100-yard rusher for 44 straight games received six different games with one this past season, which ranked behind only Philadelphia. Lacy had four, and Starks and Johnathan Franklin each had one. 

The Packers finished third in the NFL in rushing first downs (119), first in runs over 50 yards (four) and ninth in runs over 10 yards (54). 

Lacy certainly got help from Starks, who ran for 493 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. But most of the heavy lifting was done by the rookie. 

Lacy finished first in the franchise record books for carries, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and 100-yard games by a rookie. His 11 total scores were second only to Billy Howton's 13 in 1952 among rookies.  

Lacy's 55 broken tackles were 22 more than the Packers got combined in 2012, when Green, Cedric Benson, DuJuan Harris, Ryan Grant and Starks combined for just 33. His four runs over 20 yards also bested the three provided by the five backs in 2012. 

Amazingly, Lacy missed out-rushing the five by just 73 yards, despite Green, Benson, Harris, Grant and Starks carrying a total of 342 times. 

After years of struggles running the football under McCarthy, the Packers finally became a two-dimensional offense capable of moving the football on the ground. That was mostly thanks to Lacy's exquisite rookie season, one that should be remembered as one of Green Bay's best ever efforts from a first-year player.


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