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Green Bay Packers Find Gems in James Starks and Sam Shields

DETROIT - DECEMBER 05: James Starks #19 of the Buffalo Bulls celebrates a fourth quarter touchdown with Chris Lauzze #79, Andrew West #72 and Peter Bittner #73 while playing the Ball State Cardinals during the second quarter of the MAC Championship game on December 5, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Zach KruseSenior Analyst IApril 28, 2010

The most common conclusion you'll hear on the Green Bay Packers 2010 draft was that it was solid yet unspectacular—nothing sexy about it. But before you take that stance on the new crop of Packers coming in, I invite you to take a look at two players who might just change your mind.

I won't lie, when the Packers sixth round selection of Buffalo running back James Starks came in, I didn't know who he was. But once you research Starks, you can see why the Packers selected him.

Starks is 6'2", 220 pounds and runs a 4.5 in the 40 yard dash, and from all accounts I've read about him, he is a great character guy. (While 4.5 doesn't sound fast, Starks' Speed Score, which combines speed with size, was 106. In comparison, C.J. Spiller registered a 107.)

However, the first thing you hear about Starks is in regard to his 2009 season—or lack there of—in which he missed the entire year while recovering from shoulder surgery. Obviously Packers' doctors gave his shoulder a passing grade, but only time will tell if the problem is completely fixed.

If you can put his injury issues in the back of your mind, however, Starks has the ability to make an impact with the Packers next season. Before his injury, Starks made the Doak Walker Memorial trophy watch list for 2009—an award given to the nation's best collegiate running back—and even ESPN draft gurus had Starks with a second round grade coming into the season.

With over 3,400 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns during his career, along with 127 receptions, Starks has the talent to take away touches from Packer incumbents Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.

The scouting report on Starks is promising too: "Natural pass catcher", "Glider who can hit the corner at the NFL level and can be a load to take down once in the open field", and "good lateral movement and quick feet when looking for a hole to open."

There is little doubt in my mind, if Starks can stay healthy (and to be fair, that is a big "if"), he has the opportunity to come in right away and help an already good NFL offense. He's not an immediate threat to Grant's job security, but I'd say this pick is a pretty good indication that Jackson's role as the third down running back is far from safe.

Green Bay GM Ted Thompson also hinted that Starks will have the opportunity to show what he can do in the return game as well—proving his versatility to a football team.

Regardless, the Packers will have the benefit of a healthy competition in their running back stable this summer, and it will be one of the battles I'm going to keep my eye on.

Green Bay might have also added an impact player in 2010 after the NFL draft was finished. By signing University of Miami (FL) speedster Sam Shields, the Packers might finally have addressed their return game deficiencies.

Any Wisconsin Badgers' fan who watched the team's 2009 bowl game will tell you how explosive Shields can be. At the Champs Sports Bowl, Shields took the opening kickoff and blazed 84 yards to set up the Hurricanes first touchdown.

He could also contribute to the Packers floundering special team units as the gunner on kickoffs and punts. The owner of a 4.20 40-yard-dash time, his speed and experience (UM's special teams player of the year in 2009 as the gunner) could alter the fate of Green Bay's less-than-stellar special teams.

Shields relishes the role as well. "Gunner—that's one of my specialties right there," said Shields. "I love it. I (forced) a lot of fair catches."

If Shields has it his way, he'll be making the Packers' punter (whomever that may be) a much happier man this season. And with all the problems that unit has had over the past few years, any kind of help will be more than welcomed.

Keep an eye on Shields for 2010—if your eye can keep up with him.

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