2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Running Backs
In this second installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the running back positions (HB and FB) currently stand. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.
This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.
#25 Ryan Grant
28 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011
#44 James Starks
25 yrs. old / 1 yr. exp.
Signed through 2013
#23 Dmitri Nance
23 yrs. old / 1 yr. exp.
Signed through 2012
#45 Quinn Johnson
24 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012
#32 Brandon Jackson
25 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Free Agent (tender offered)
#30 John Kuhn
28 yrs. old / 5 yrs. exp.
Free Agent (tender offered)
#35 Korey Hall
27 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Free Agent (no tender offered)
* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com
Having both Ryan Grant and James “Neo” Starks in the backfield next season is an exciting situation for the Packers. Though Mike McCarthy will always run a pass heavy offense, this “one-two punch” could be just what the doctor ordered at running back.
Grant is a dependable workhorse who carried the load for the Packers before his injury, amassing 1,200 rushing yards in both 2008 and 2009. In his first year with Green Bay, he was just 44 yards shy of hitting the 1,000 mark.
Starks, meanwhile, rose to the occasion during the Packers’ playoff run this past year. He showed good vision and was often able to gain a little extra yardage after contact and in undesirable situations. Starks has the potential to be the “primary” back in the near future.
Then there’s Brandon Jackson, who, if he resigns with the Packers, could complete the Cerberus of running backs. His pass blocking and receiving skills make him an ideal third down back. Plus, Jackson has shown his ability to make big gains on draws and screen plays.
To round out the position, John Kuhn is a sturdy blocker and short-yardage pounder who boasted an 80% success rate on third-down carries.
There are two main issues I see with this position group:
1) First and foremost, the blocking skills at the fullback position are pretty average. Quinn Johnson seems to have the potential to be a fierce run blocker, but those abilities haven’t been realized yet. John Kuhn is solid, but nothing spectacular. With McCarthy’s creativity in personnel packages, it would be nice to see the blocking upgraded for those plays run out of the wishbone and T formations.
2) While it’s great to have running backs that specialize/excel in certain areas of the game, the Packers really don’t have a “complete” back. Granted, those types of players are few and far between, but each of the running backs on the roster has at least one significant weakness.
For Ryan Grant, he is mostly a pure runner. His pass catching abilities are okay, and his blocking is subpar. With Brandon Jackson, we saw his inability to be that workhorse who can make quick decisions and hit the holes hard when things don’t open up.
James Starks could be the closest thing they have to a complete running back, yet his ceiling is still largely undefined. His past injuries, work ethics in practice, and blocking skills all came into question this past season.
For all the excitement generated by Grant and Starks running the show next season, there’s actually quite a bit of uncertainty going into things with three players now operating as free agents.
Only two of those players have been offered tenders: Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn. These tenders, of course, are rather meaningless with the CBA currently in limbo; however, Kuhn has made it known he wishes to return to the team. Jackson, on the other hand, has voiced his desire to be a feature back – a wish he won’t be granted in Green Bay.
And then there’s Korey Hall. For him not to even be offered a “meaningless” tender pretty much negates his return next year. There’s always a chance Hall will be back, but it seems the Packers are content to move forward without him.
At worst, the Packers will lose all three players. In this case they would be sure to either draft or sign at least one replacement, though probably in the lower rounds.
At best, the Packers will retain Jackson and Kuhn, and they can move forward into next season without really needing to add any additional backs.
There are also some minor concerns with the rest of the players who are returning:
Will Ryan Grant’s production be as high as it was before the injury? Can James Starks sustain his level of play for an entire season, and will he progress enough in his pass blocking to take over Jackson’s role if need be? And will Quinn Johnson ever reach his speculated potential at fullback?
The problem, of course, is that most of these questions won’t be answered until the draft is over. So how much of a risk is Ted Thompson willing to take?
URGENCY OF NEEDS: Medium / Low
The necessity to draft or sign a running back this year falls somewhere in the low to medium range. At first glance, I would have pegged the running back positions to be fairly stable for next year, yet that is not completely the case.
I’d wager the most likely outcome is that the Packers lose Jackson and Hall, keeping Ryan Grant, James Starks, John Kuhn, Dmitri Nance and Quinn Johnson on the roster.
They could certainly make due with these players, as they kept two halfbacks and three fullbacks last year. It would keep the personnel fairly similar; however, there would be more questions in regard to player skills.
Starks would need to be able to handle the third-down duties that Jackson would leave behind. Kuhn and Johnson would need to improve their game at fullback. And Nance would have to show he can handle the role of the short-yardage pounder he briefly flashed during the season.
With Grant in the final year of his contract and the personnel questions lingering, I would not be surprised at all if Ted Thompson picks up a running back at a value price. If not for this year, it would be a pick for the future of the team.
*** For further reading, check out “According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Running Backs” by Thomas Hobbes. ***——————Follow @ChadToporski