Packers Running Backs: Present and Future?
I dig into every article I can find about the Packers and the draft, including here at Al’s site. There is a wide range of opinions on the subject of Packers running backs. Lets look at my views on running backs, those with the team, and in the draft.
The Packers currently have six running backs and one full back listed on their roster. Those include running backs Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, Brandon Saine, Dujuan Harris, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn at full back. Grant filled a spot caused by injuries, showed he can still do a little, but like last year, just say thank you and good luck. The question on Benson would be is he even worth bringing back? He did ok at best. He is a talented back with mileage and age, he just turned 30 and is coming back from a foot injury that required surgery. I don’t see any compelling reason to bring him back other then competition.
Harris looks like a very good 3rd down back that can fill in nicely when needed to start, but not a “featured back”. He does it all pretty well. Has a decent jump cut, might need to be a bit more patient looking for cut back lanes. He needs to be brought back and coached up over the off season. Starks has shown he can be productive as a runner, is a good receiver out of the back field, but needs to work on blitz pickup. How much time do you put into a talented 6th round RB that can’t stay healthy? I think he should be brought back, but with any additional injuries he would get a quick hook from me.
Saine, another UDFA like Harris, has good straight line speed, is a decent receiver out of the back field and quite good in blitz pickup. His ability in Pass Protection might have been his best asset. Not a great fit for the Packers running game. He lacks lateral agility, but has quickness and speed.
Green, I hoped to see more from this year. It took a little time to get him into the rotation coming back from his knee reconstruction. A concussion and some scar tissue issues with his knee didn’t help. Showed some nice runs, at times really hit the hole if there was one quickly, didn’t show the vision you look for as far as cut back lanes. But he did that pretty well in college, I just think his knee was not ready for cuts like he did before. Good receiver and decent in pass protection. He has the size-speed combination you look for. The whole second season back from an ACL repair is where I see Green for this next year. I don’t call him a bust, I just give him an incomplete and well worth further development.
What can you say about “KUHN” – not a great blocker, but effective. Just the old time hard nosed football player that can do a little of everything pretty well. Competition should be brought in for him but I don’t see him being replaced.
In the articles and comments I have read, the range of opinions goes from “they need a STUD running back, high, even first round pick” to “you don’t waste a first round pick on a running back” with everything in between being the best way to go.
If you look across the NFL, the starting running backs range from top 10 draft picks to UDFA’s. The top ten running backs in the NFL this year have that same range. Adrian Peterson put in one of the most amazing seasons by a running back perhaps ever, and having done this after the injury he had late in the 2011 season is mind boggling. The #2 running back for 2012 was a rookie 6th round pick of the Washington Redskins. In fact two of the top 10 running backs for 2012 were rookies. Six of the Top 10 Running backs were 1st round draft choices, three were 3rd round picks, one UDFA.
So what is it? You need that first round pick to have a successful running game? Or can you find a good running back anywhere?
The Packers have one 1st round pick at running back in Benson, two 6th rounder’s, a 3rd and 3 UDFA’s. Looking at it like that, it seems something needs to be done soon. But the fact remains the Packers are a pass first team, so do you use a high draft pick on a Running back? I will start by saying not in this draft. I don’t think any running back in this year’s draft is worthy of a 1st round pick. Having said that, there are running backs in the late 2nd into the 4th round and later that are well worth a draft pick.
Eddy Lacey 5-10 221# seems to be the consensus #1 back in this year’s draft with a high second round grade. Giovanni Bernard 5-10 205# is the #2 back with a late second round grade. After that Montee Ball 5-11 215# with a 3rd round grade is the #3 back.
Eddy Lacey to me is just a ‘good’ back and had the production he did running behind that offensive line. He is not smooth in change of direction, lacks elusiveness and seems heavy footed.
If you are going to be a featured back in the NFL, you first have to have the size to handle that kind of load. I like running backs closer to 220# than 200#. Height 5-10 to 6-0. Quickness and agility to me are more important than raw speed. This is where I really look close at the combine numbers for running back prospects. What are their ten yard, short shuttle and 3 cone times.
So let’s get to who I like in this year’s draft. I will give you some names: Montee Ball, Marcus Lattimore, Christine Michael, Stephan Taylor and Rex Burkhead.
Lattimore has the most questions. Without being injured he would have been the #1 back in the draft and a real first rounder. Now he will be a mid round pick. Good size at 6-0 220#, you can see from his video highlights how good he has played. But do you risk even a mid round pick on a prospect that will most likely start the season on the PUP list and have to be taken along slowly? He has the talent to be a top running back.
Montee Ball – is he a product of one of the best run blocking offensive lines year after year or that good? He played in more of a pull/ trap blocking system. Didn’t have to step and cut very often. He has the moves but is he a top NFL running back?
I could not find any highlights for Stephan Taylor. If anyone has some, please post them. He shows the size-speed I like and does everything well, not great at any, but a good back.
The running back that makes me say wow is Christine Michaels 5-10 220# Texas A&M. He shows the quickness and speed, but his change of direction and stop and start moves are some of the quickest and smoothest I have watched in a long time. And his jump cuts are a thing of beauty. The problem with Michaels is that he seems to have a ten cent head. His rankings are all over the place, but he is a top talent.
Rex Burkhead for me is just a tough hard nosed football player that gets the job done.
As I go through all the mock drafts that start this time of year, and when you look at this draft top to bottom to see what positions stand out in the draft, running back does not. But the Packers need to improve the running back group, of that I have no doubt. So do the Packers need to draft a running back? Do they need to use a 2nd or 3rd round pick What do you think?on one? Do you take a chance on a high character, highly talent but injured prospect like Lattimore or a talented prospect with some character questions in a Christine Michaels?
What do you think?
Thanks for this post to draft-season contributor Don Christensen, known as “Yoop” on the TalkinPackers forum.