James Starks: 2011 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card
1) Introduction: Many dubbed Starks the savior of the Packers’ backfield after injuries hit that unit hard to begin 2010. Amidst unreasonable expectations, Starks eventually came off the PUP list and rushed for a respectable 73 yards in his NFL debut against the 49ers. The Packers then relied on Starks during the postseason to give them the balance they had been missing all season, and the rookie from Buffalo responded with a postseason-high 315 rushing yards, including 123 yards in the Wild Card round against the Eagles.
James Darcell Starks
Weight: 218 lbs.
3) Expectations coming into the season: Despite Starks’ postseason numbers and the explosiveness he showed in the 2011 preseason, the Packers were dead-set on committing to a two-back system with both Starks and a fully-healed Ryan Grant. Without the initial possibility of full-time carries, like he saw during the 2010-11 playoffs, expectations for Starks were tempered. Still, most foresaw Starks taking hold of the position at some time during the season.
4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Through the first 11 weeks, Starks was clearly the best back on the Packers roster. He sought out contact and ran violently, but also showed an elusiveness once he got to the second level. Only a hiccup against Chicago in Week 3 could be seen as a low-light early on. But things went downhill in a hurry after Starks suffered an ankle injury against the Buccaneers in Week 11. From there, the injuries piled up and the numbers vanished. Starks’ best games, production-wise, came against Carolina (85 yards, including 40-yard run) and Minnesota (75 yards). Following the Bucs game, Starks rushed for just 80 yards over the final seven games (including playoffs).
5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Starks was an improved player in 2011, both as an open-field runner and in his assignments as a receiver and pass blocker. The Packers rewarded him for that improvement with a majority of the carries over the first 11 weeks. Considering his injury-plauged finish, Starks still led the team in rushing with 621 yards in 15 games (including playoffs). He was a shell of himself when he came back from his injury, and Starks needs to show that he can stay healthy for a full season before anyone can consider him a huge factor moving forward.
6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Starks was the last running back to see the field against the Giants, but he did give the Packers a third quarter spark on the ground. On just six carries, Starks finished with 43 yards (7.2 yards/carry). In the first half, however, Starks showed some rust in allowing a sack in pass protection and dropping a pass that should have been caught. It certainly wasn’t a confidence-building effort to end the season.
Season Report Card:
(B-) Level of expectations met during the season
(C+) Contributions to team’s overall success.
(C-) Contributions to team during the playoffs
Overall Grade: C——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2