Saints vs. Packers: Assessing the Fantasy Impact of Ryan Grant and James Starks

Michael DulkaContributor ISeptember 9, 2011

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 08: James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers runs between Junior Galette #93 and Jonathan Casillas #52 of the New Orleans Saints during the NFL opening season game at Lambeau Field on September 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Saints 42-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers benefited in a big way against the New Orleans Saints from their rushing attack behind Ryan Grant and James Starks. As of now the pair will be splitting carries, which can be quite frustrating for fantasy owners, but it won't be long until Starks becomes the feature back.

The Packers' coaching staff entered the season with the plan to integrate Grant back into the lineup, but also give carries to the young, emerging Starks.  

"They're both going to take pretty much all situations in the game," Coach Fontenot said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Evenly dispersed? I can't guarantee it. But I'm certainly going try to get each one of those guys an equal amount of opportunities to carry the football, to hold onto the football and to control the clock for us."

So if you are a fantasy owner and you own either of these players, where are you left at this point? 

If we look to the season opener against the Saints, Grant started the game and saw most of the action on the Packers' first two drives. He was sufficient carrying the ball three times for 19 yards on drives that featured mostly Aaron Rodgers picking apart the Saints secondary. On his limited opportunities, Grant was averaging 6.33 yards per carry. 

Grant cooled off after the first quarter, carrying the ball six more times the rest of the way earning an additional 21 yards. He only averaged 3.5 yards per carry the rest of the way, finishing the game with nine carries for 40 yards and an average of 4.44 yards.

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 08:   Ryan Grant #25 of the Green Bay Packers runs with the ball against  Malcolm Jenkins #27 of the New Orleans Saints during the season opening game at Lambeau Field on September 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jona
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Starks came into the game hot in the second quarter, with consecutive carries picking up 10 yards and then five more. Starks finished that drive with a 17-yard touchdown run to put the Packers up 28-14.

Consistency in his favor, Starks continued to pick up yardage, finishing the game with 12 carries for 57 yards and the touchdown. As the game progressed, Starks was seeing more playing time than his counterpart, Ryan Grant.

So what does this mean after one game? 

For now, the Packers will stick with splitting carries and ride the hot hand throughout the specific game, but if Starks continues to perform the way he did tonight, as well as improves his pass protection, he will be the feature back soon.

Starks hits the hole with explosiveness that Grant just doesn't seem to have at this point. Added to his physical style of running, Starks has ability that Grant is missing. It will not be long before Starks replaces Grant, but it may not be worth the wait for fantasy owners.

The Packers backs will most likely continue splitting carries for the time being, and if your team is in need of immediate help at running back, neither player may be right for you. 

If you can afford to add Starks now and ride this out until he most likely wins the majority of the carries, he could be a great pickup that will help your team later on. He showed last season that he can get the job done when called on for over 20 carries.  

In a keeper league, Starks would be a great pickup, as all indication points to him becoming the Packers featured running back for years to come.

It is quite early in the year, and anything could happen between the two backs, but Week 1 definitely showed Starks as a bigger contributor to the Packers.

The next two games will be huge in determining how the Packers are going to let their running back situation play out. Over the next few weeks, the Packers play the two worst teams in the league from last season.

Next week they travel south to play the Carolina Panthers, who ranked 23rd in rush defense last season. After Carolina and a trip to Chicago, they return home to Lambeau to play the Denver Broncos who ranked 32nd in the league in rush defense.

Each player has a big opportunity to separate themselves as the clear cut starter. If Starks is able to do this, his fantasy value will sky-rocket. If you have space on your team for later in the season, and especially if you are in a keeper league, Starks could provide great value.