5

February

Packers Running Backs: Present and Future?

DuJuan Harris - Packers Running Back

DuJuan Harris – Packers Running Back

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.

36 Responses to “Packers Running Backs: Present and Future?”

  1. Nick Perry says:

    This past weekend I was having Packer withdrawal. I watched the Packers play the Rams and a few things were very clear. Rodgers is a truly amazing QB, that covers up the many flaws this Packers team has, and Alex Greens best move is running up the backs of his offensive line. This is the game Green carried the ball 20 times for 40 yards. One of his carries was for 15 yards, which means his other 19 were for 25 yards. Rodgers in this game at one point was 21 of 23 and one of those passes was a spike to stop the clock. Maybe Green comes back a much better back next year, maybe we see the Alex Green who played against the Rams. It’s said T.T. has always been in love with Steven Jackson. I’d love to see what it would take to get Jackson in Green Bay. Personally I think that would be the best possible move the Packers could make to help the running game.

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  2. Nick Perry says:

    That is of coarse if we can get him with a reasonable contract.

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  3. Lou says:

    The whole “you can get a good RB lower in the draft” is a myth. The Shanahan tree (Kubiak) can do it, but few other systems can. If you take out Foster (Kubiak) and Morris (Shanahan), most the top RBs are 1st- or 2nd-rounders. Peterson, Lynch, Martin, Spiller, Johnson, Forte. Ridley and Charles were early 3rd. Gore was a 3rd, but really a 1st-round talent who had injury problems in college. At the end of the day, if you don’t go rounds 1-2 you’ll be lucky to get competence.

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  4. Gary says:

    Taylor or Ball would be good choices. Watch the video on Ball and note how many cuts and how many yards after contact he makes. He is fun to watch. Too many highlights of RBs seem to be times when they have huge holes.

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    • Stroh says:

      Completely agree. Ive said many times Montee Ball would be ideal for the Pack. His cutting ability and physical runninv style are great fit for the Pack. Plus Wisconsin runs a lot of zone run scheme a lot so Ball would have an easy transition to GB.

      I also don’t see why they wouldn’t bring Benson back. He was just getting comfortable and learning the reads and offense. If they don’t draft a RB Benson is easily the best RB they have.

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  5. JimR_in_DC says:

    Jersey Al sez: “But the fact remains the Packers are a pass first team, so do you use a high draft pick on a Running back?”

    I feel strongly that the Packers are making a mistake if they don’t make the running game more integral to the offense than to just keep the defense honest. I would like to see the Packers pick a RB in round 2-4 this year.I think we need our first two picks to address DL and LB.

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    • JimR_in_DC says:

      My mistake, Yoop is who I was quoting. :)

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    • Lou says:

      Agreed. They haven’t been just a pass-first team, they’ve been a pass-dominant team. They need a significant upgrade in the running game to elevate themselves to a balanced-but-pass-first team. Particularly with Jennings and Driver gone, and Finley gone either now or in a year. And Jones a FA in a year.

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    • ThomasMagnumPI ThomasMagnumPI says:

      I think that in order to “keep the defense honest” they just need to make it a point to stick with the run. I am referring directly to the 2nd half vs the 49ers where they totally abandoned Harris, who was averaging 5 ypc (if memory serves) in favor of Cobb at RB for a few carries(which was not ineffective, but just wasn’t necessary) and then throwing–a lot.

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      • Lou says:

        I hear ya, but my point is that we need to elevate the running game from “keeping the defense honest” to a legitimate threat. Not a ton because it would be silly to take the ball out of ARod’s hands too much, but a significant commitment over what we’ve been doing.

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    • cow42 says:

      they’re not only a “pass-first” team… they’re a “pass-dependant” team.

      it’s one thing to DECIDE to pass a lot… it quite another to HAVE TO.

      get Michael… whatever you have to do… get that dude.

      dump kuhn (too expensive, te can do his job)
      dump benson (too old)
      dump grant (see benson)
      keep starks (manageable contract)
      give green one more shot
      flip a coin on saine.

      Michael
      Harris
      Starks
      Green

      that would be the best group they’ve had in decades.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  6. Lou says:

    For the players mentioned, I’d prefer to stay away from Michaels and Lattimore due to their question marks. I’d also stay away from Taylor because we already have the same exact player (DuJuan Harris). Burkhead will go nowhere in the pros; hard worker but not enough talent. So it looks like Lacy in the 1st or Ball in the 2nd. Lacy looks kinda stiff to me, and Ball seems like the sort of instinctive back that doesn’t need 20+ carries to get going. Let’s go with Ball!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Stroh says:

      I wouldn’t mind taking a shot on Lattimore. Look how Gore turned out for SF. Get him in 3rd or 4th and you might have a stud for 7 yrs.

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      • Pack fan from ATL says:

        My thoughts exactly. It’s not like we will be riding him like the Vikes did with AP this year. Let Starks/Harris carry us until Lattimore is ready, and hopefully he can be productive like Starks was in a playoff run.

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  7. Eric says:

    Just a thought, what about picking up Reggie Bush as a free agent. He shouldn’t be to expensive and he’s shown he can run when given the ball and has always been a good option out of the backfield.. With that said Philbin doesn’t seem to want to back so maybe that says something. But he is a game changer and has the speed and has had some big running games as well, he would certainly get over a 100 yards in a game being the first packer rb to do so in a long time.

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    • cow42 says:

      older and more expensive than a rookie.
      injury history.
      has he ever played in the cold?

      pass.

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  8. Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

    Re: Montee Ball – “Didn’t have to step and cut very often.”

    Doesn’t seem like the kind of player for McCarthy’s offense. While it’s not all zone blocking, he uses a lot of it, and that requires the ability to make the cutbacks. (As well as the vision to know where/when to make those cuts.)

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      BTW… not saying Ball *can’t* do it, just that if he hasn’t shown it, then his value decreases as the risk increases.

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      • Stroh says:

        Don’t know where he got that on Ball but I completely disagree. Ball has excellent vision and cutting ability!

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        • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

          I couldn’t say… I don’t really watch college ball. Interesting to hear otherwise about Ball!

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          • Stroh says:

            Montee is like a poor mans Ahman Green. Not quite as big fast or powerful. But same vision runs hard and w power. Can make good cuts to change direction. And Wisconsin runs a lot of zone runs so its an easy transition fot Ball.

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  9. ThomasMagnumPI ThomasMagnumPI says:

    I think the two best moves that TT can make in regards to “the running game” are upgrading the O-Line and replacing Kuhn.

    First of all, Harris has shown that he can get what’s blocked and sometimes quite a bit more. Even though I don’t think he will be handling as many touches/game as LT in his prime, that’s what people said about MJD too. I’m not saying that Harris=MJD, but they are built similarly. The biggest problem with the running game is that GB has one mauling starter in the O-Line–Josh Sitten. If GB could get Lang to produce like he has shown in the past and upgrade the other spot in the interior O Line, that takes them from blah to solid in a hurry. Newhouse is a liability in the run game, and I think TT just has to see what he can get out of his last 1st round pick on offense, Sherrod.

    There’s nothing wrong with Kuhn. That being said, he is a role-player that commands a pretty lofty salary if I remember correctly ($2.2 million/year?). I think TT could get very similar production, out of a 5th-7th round draft pick (Kyle Juszczyk http://www.nfldraftscout.com/ratings/dsprofile.php?pyid=97736&draftyear=2013&genpos=FB) and shed a significant amount of salary for re-signing and extending guys like Nelson, JJ, Lang, etc..

    It sure would be nice to land a top-flight RB, but it seems more like a luxury than necessity. Look at what NO is getting out of their 1st round running back, Mark Ingram. Their Offense is similar, and I just don’t see the value to GB in tying up a pick and salary at RB in rounds 1 or 2.

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    • Lou says:

      You’re right that Kuhn is overrated and that Newhouse needs to become a backup. If Sherrod is 100% healthy, let him take over LT. If Sherrod isn’t quite there, move him to RT and move Bulaga to RT. If Sherrod isn’t close, move Bulaga to LT and give Barclay a shot at RT. Getting a bigger body than EDS at center would also help. Perhaps someone like Brian Winters from Kent State in the 2nd round?

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      • ThomasMagnumPI ThomasMagnumPI says:

        To be honest, I don’t like the idea of moving Bulaga around the line. I would prefer to move Barclay if he is one of the 5 best O-Lineman on the team (see reply to FireMMNow, below). Newhouse brings nothing to the run game, but he is a good enough pass blocker to provide enough safety net in case Sherrod is unable to be effective in 2013.

        It just seems like a situation to wait-and-see, as FMMN has said in his comment.

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  10. Dan "FireMMNow" Blakley FireMMNow says:

    In my opinion DuJuan Harris is basically a 3rd round pick for the packers. He is still a bit of an unknown, but if he had to go into the draft right now i think he would be a third round pick. I would like to wait one more year on RB and see what the packers have in Green and Harris. Spend that pick you would have spent on a RB on a high quality physical center. If you want to be a great running team, you need size and toughness up the middle.

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    • ThomasMagnumPI ThomasMagnumPI says:

      I agree.

      What about these scenarios:

      Don Barclay to C.
      Don Barclay to LG, Lang to C.

      I think Barclay has good enough feet to play C, but is he suited for a starting role, or is he better-suited as what Lang was doing a few years back as a swing lineman? Is Lang to C a viable option, if for instance a LG falls in the draft far enough to provide very good value?

      Has Datko shown anything on the practice field?

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      • cow42 says:

        so we’re looking at having to count on…
        lang, barclay, datko, eds, newhouse, sherrod, and/or a rookie…

        yuck.

        just get a stud back and live with the crappy line. by the time that mess gets cleaned up Rodgers will be 35.

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      • Stroh says:

        I don’t think Lang is a good Center. The guy has been an OT and OG hie entire football life. I think EDS can beome a good C, took Wells a couple years but turned out damn good. If we draft one get Holmes the USC in the 3rd or 4th

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      • Oppy says:

        Why does everyone always want to either move Lang to a new position, or trade him?

        He’s a good, young guard that scrappy. IMO, he’s going to be pretty darn good for the Packers for a long time.

        what gives?

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        • ThomasMagnumPI ThomasMagnumPI says:

          I like Lang where he is at too, and I think he is a better player than he showed this year. I am just rolling around the idea of how to get Barclay on the field at an interior line spot, and obviously Sitton ain’t going anywhere.

          I am not super concerned with EDS at C just yet, but I think some good competition and a viable plan “B”, and “C” for that matter, at OC would be prudent.

          Like most of the spots on the roster, I think that the O-Line has quite a lot of potential, especially if Sherrod can be effective. For that reason, I don’t necessarily like the idea of spending a 1st round draft pick on the O-Line. GB has two first-rounders at OT, with two competent backups (I’m counting on Newhouse and Barclay as being the backups), and a decent if underwhelming interior. I don’t see where a 1st rounder will be a clear long-term or short-term improvement.

          That does beg the question as to where a 1st round draft pick would be a clear upgrade. A discussion for another comment . . .

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      • Don "Yoop" Christensen Yoop says:

        We were talking about that today. In one of my earlier pieces I talked about moving Barclay to Center, He is not a NFL at either tackle spot, other then a back up.
        Lang I talked about at Center since his second year.
        I am looking at Sherrod as Gravy if he is fully ready to go the start of the 2013 training camp.
        Datko is player I want to know about too.
        He was coming off a shoulder surgery going into the draft and just not up to NFL strength levels for the 2012 training camp.
        All season on the practice squad and now a off season coming up, he could push some people and that is always a good thing.

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  11. bobalou13 says:

    Gotta disagree Oppy. Lang gets blown up constantly, he is only slightly better than the payroll leak that was Colledge. He and the center position are the weak links. If there’s a God in heaven, Barrett Jones in the 1st, please.

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  12. Don "Yoop" Christensen Yoop says:

    I would not be mad if that happens, what about Fredrick is the 2nd?

    http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1665144/travis-frederick

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  13. NV says:

    I really like the idea of Lattimore coming in. Sure he has injuries, but he isn’t high on many peoples lists due to that. Ball could also do well with the packers due to having already adjusted to playing in the cold. I didn’t get to see any games with the A&M Guy, so I will be interested to see how he plays out in the draft.

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