One of the weakest positions in recent seasons for the Green Bay Packers has been the running backs. However, that changed last year with second-round pick Eddie Lacy rumbling his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
This year should be completely different from the past few years because the running backs are surprisingly deep. In fact, this might be the deepest position on the entire roster for the Packers.
This is true even with the loss of second-year running back Johnathan Franklin. It was just ruled by the Packers that Franklin's neck injury he suffered last year was career-ending, per Jason Wilde of ESPN:
McCarthy: "Unfortunate news about Johnathan Franklin ... He will not be back with us." Neck injury apparently has turned out to be major.— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) June 19, 2014
While losing Franklin certainly hurts, the Packers should ultimately be fine. Today we'll take an in-depth look at each running back in Green Bay who will have an impact this year and how the Packers can best utilize them.
After rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, there's little doubt that Lacy will once again be the workhorse running back for the Packers. With that said, it wouldn't be too surprising to see Lacy's overall number of carries decline this year.
The main reason for this is that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy. This means the Packers won't need to rely on Lacy as the focal point of their offense for a huge chunk of the season like they did last year.
Where Lacy can be best utilized this year is as an instrument to wear down opposing defenses. His power and ability to break tackles will wear down the defense and allow the passing game to make bigger plays.
One new thing we could see this year is Lacy as a three-down back. He's actually been working with the offensive line, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN:
What this ultimately means is that Lacy is ready to become a truly complete back. While his overall touches may go down a little bit, his impact in Green Bay won't change at all. Don't be surprised if Lacy is widely considered one of the top running backs in the league after the 2014 season.
While Starks has been somewhat of a disappointment for the Packers, he was actually quite impressive last year, and maybe even had the best year of his career. In fact, let's compare his 2013 campaign to his 2011 campaign when he was supposed to be the No. 1 running back in Green Bay:
|Year||Games Played||Rushing Yards||Yards Per Carry||Receiving Yards||Yards Per Reception||Total Touchdowns|
The first thing to note is that Starks played in the same exact amount of games in both 2011 and 2013. Now it's true he had more rushing yards and receiving yards in 2011, but his yards-per-carry and yards-per-reception averages in 2013 are significantly higher than in 2011. He also recorded three more overall touchdowns last year.
So, what does this all mean? It means that the Packers have a legitimate one-two punch in Lacy and Starks. When Lacy is done wearing defenses down, Starks can come in with his quickness and agility and give the Packers instant offense.
With Starks and Lacy leading the way, the Packers should have one of the more potent rushing attacks in the entire league.
The last key member of the Packers' running back depth is sort of a mystery. Harris was actually scribbled in as the starter last year before a knee injury knocked him out for the entire year.
This year he's in a completely different position as the No. 3 running back on the depth chart, so no one really knows how the Packers will use him. However, head coach Mike McCarthy did give a little insight of what the Packers are thinking with Harris:
McCarthy: "I want DuJuan Harris to be the best RB he can be & be the best special teams player he can be. … potential returner." #Packers— Paul Imig (@Paulimig) June 17, 2014
One thing that's interesting is the thought of Harris as a potential return man. This is an area that was rather inconsistent for Green Bay last year. Harris' speed and playmaking abilities certainly make him an intriguing option for special teams.
However, McCarthy also appears interested in getting Harris involved in the ground game. What we could ultimately see happen is Lacy's carries decrease, Starks' carries increase a little and Harris will take the remainder available.
With three legitimate options at running back, the depth for the Packers this year is really quite impressive. They should not only be one of the deepest group of running backs in the league, but also one of the productive.
The years of relying on the passing game 99 percent of the time are officially gone in Green Bay. This year should usher in the new era of a truly balanced offense, which should be absolutely terrifying to the rest of the NFL.