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April

2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Running Backs

Packers RB DuJuan Harris will surely be back with the Pack in 2013.

Packers RB DuJuan Harris will surely be back with the Pack in 2013.

As far as personnel, the Packers underwent more changes at running back than any other position. James Starks was the starter through training camp before the team signed Cedric Benson after the first preseason game. Injuries added up, allowing DuJuan Harris–a former used car salesman–to take over as the team’s feature back.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects;

DuJuan Harris (UDFA, Signed as FA in 2012)
Alex Green (3rd round, 2011)
James Starks (6th round, 2010)
Brandon Saine (UDFA, 2011)
John Kuhn (UDFA, Signed as FA in 2007)

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Harris: For the 2012 Packers, DuJuan Harris (5-9 208) was a huge blessing in a small package. After starter Cedric Benson was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury, and reserves Alex Green and James Starks both battled injuries of their own, the team turned to Harris to be the lead back. Harris played in a total of six games last season and recorded a team-high four rushing touchdowns.

Green: After Cedric Benson was lost for the season while James Starks was already out of the lineup, Alex Green was the next man up. Green broke off a season-long run of 41 yards later in the game Benson got hurt but never grabbed hold of the starting job. For the season, Green averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.

Starks: As the starter in the Packers’ first preseason game, James Starks turned in a disappointing performance. Before suffering a turf toe injury which would cause him to miss half of the season, Starks also lost a fumble. He returned to the lineup and became a key part of the backfield rotation during the middle of the season, but his roster spot for 2013 is far from assured.

Saine: The second-year back out of Ohio State didn’t carry the ball once in 2012, as he was lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL in week six against the Houston Texans. Saine has appeared in just 14 games the past two seasons, but he showed promise during 2011 in a limited role.

Kuhn: As a runner, the fan favorite fullback had his least productive season since 2009; however, his 148 receiving yards were the most of his career. Kuhn proved his worth in the playoffs, finding the end zone twice against the Minnesota Vikings in the wild card round.

Where we want to be:

The Packers currently have several running backs on the roster that can help the team moving forward. Whether or not there is a true starting-caliber running back on the roster is another question.

While DuJuan Harris provided the offense with a much-needed boost in the running game, he may be best-served as a third-down, change-of-pace back. Alex Green is an effective pass catcher out of the backfield, but again, he’s not a three-down back.

James Starks was a savior during the 2010 Super Bowl run, but his time in Green Bay may be nearing an end. Starks missed 12 of the team’s 18 games last season, and his continued struggles with injuries could lead the team to finally pull the plug.

Injuries decimated the team at running back so severely that they were forced to bring Ryan Grant back, although he’s not expected to return in 2013.

Rotating running backs is becoming common in the modern-day NFL. Sometimes combining diverse skill sets within a backfield is a recipe for success. But in a perfect world, every NFL team would love to have an Adrian Peterson. But unfortunately, there’s only one of those, and the Packers have to play against him twice a year.

Head coach Mike McCarthy has defended his team’s physicality, which has been called into question in recent years.

“To me, we’re a physical, tough football team,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know how you can put the tape on and say the Green Bay Packers aren’t physical.”

The Packers ranked 20th in the league last season, averaging 106.4 yards per game. In 2011, Green Bay’s running game ranked 27th, after coming in at No. 24 during the 2010 season. The last time the Packers ranked in the top-half of the league in terms of running the football was in 2009 when they ranked 14th.

In order for the questions to stop regarding his team’s toughness, McCarthy will likely look to find a reliable three-down runner to balance the offense. As long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, the Packers will be a pass-happy team on offense. But when the team is struggling to move the ball downfield through the air, a reliable running game would be a welcome addition.

How do we get there?

Bringing Cedric Benson back for another season is a possibility, but that will depend on what the Packers do in the draft. It’s unlikely that a team would sign Benson prior to April, so there’s a good chance the Packers will treat Benson as a backup plan in the event that they don’t draft a starting-caliber back.

Although it may be unlikely, the Packers could turn to free agency to search for a starting running back. Reggie Bush, Ahmad Bradshaw, Rashard Mendenhall and Steven Jackson are all expected to be with a new team in 2013.

Adding a veteran is certainly possible, but Packers general manager Ted Thompson prefers to wait until the price tag comes down before making a play for free agents.

This year’s draft doesn’t feature a surefire, potential top-10 pick at the top. There’s no Trent Richardson, and there’s definitely no Adrian Peterson. But there are a handful of interesting prospects that could have success in their first NFL season.

North Carolina’s Giovani “Gio” Bernard (5-8 202) is the No. 1 running back on my board. Most mock drafts have Bernard going in the mid-to-late second round, while Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (5-11 231) is projected by most to be a late first-round or early second-round pick.

Bernard is the No. 30 overall prospect on my board, whereas Lacy comes in at No. 40. Again, most draft sites and analysts rank Lacy as the best runner in this year’s class, but I like Bernard’s game more as it translates to the NFL level.

The way North Carolina utilized Bernard translates well to what the Packers want from the running back position. Often operating out of the shotgun, Bernard showed an ability to grind out tough yards between the tackles, and he’s likely the best receiving running back in this year’s draft class. Comparing him to a current NFL player, one could say Bernard is somewhere between Ravens running back Ray Rice and Bucs running back Doug Martin. The Packers would do well to draft Bernard if he’s available in the second round.

After Bernard and Lacy, Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Clemson’s Andre Ellington and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin figure to be selected on Day 2 at some point. Randle is a more complete back, while Ellington and Franklin rely heavily on their speed and quickness to bounce it to the outside.

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is sure to grab the interest of Packers fans given his in-state ties. Ball is my No. 6 running back in the draft, as I have concerns about how he’ll fit in with an NFL offense.

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Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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10 Responses to “2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Running Backs”

  1. cow42 says:

    bernard 202
    randle 204
    ellington 199
    franklin 205

    all these guys are just too small.

    the only problem with harris is that he’s undersized… so now you want to team him up with a partner who’s even smaller?

    i don’t get that.

    ball and taylor might even be too small.

    i like lacy but i wouldn’t want to use a r1 on him and he’ll probably be gone by the Pack’s r2.

    bell fits.

    michael fits (although he’s got red flags all over the place)>>>>>> super talented, though.

    lattimore fits (but then there’s the knee thing)

    knile davis fits (he’s got injury flags as well)

    maybe stacy

    the more i think about it the more i like bell due to play style, body type, and where you can probably get him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Jack says:

      I agree with Le’Veon Bell. He is a big, tough back that can be a power back, block for the QB and, catch the ball out of the backfield. Another key note is that the NFC goes through San Fran at the moment. They struggled with bigger backs this year and Bell looks to some like an RB that has always played well against the 49ers, Steven Jackson.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      • Dobber says:

        Living in Michigan, I’ve seen a lot of Bell and I’m relatively unimpressed by him. I’m not all that convinced that he’s the tough, inside guy people make him out to be. I think he plays a little soft.

        I don’t see the athleticism and fluidity of Steven Jackson in Bell.

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  2. [...] in for this expanded coverage of the original Packers Running Backs Position Group Post, and much, much [...]

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  3. Ron LC says:

    Ordinary, lacks talent, injury prone and inexperienced are a few descripters used to define the GB Packer RB’s. A significant upgrade would be nice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. realpackfan says:

    thank u cow! pairing 2 guys practically the same size is pointless. leveon bell would be a good fit 6’2 about 230 pounds i believe n good hands n running skills. bell or lacy would help packers. montee ball theres nothing special about him and he has alot of mileage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Stroh says:

      Only RB I would consider are 215+. Lacy Ball Michael Bell in that order in rounds 2-4 for that very reason.

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  5. [...] All Green Bay Packers with their 2013 Packers Position Group Analysis in the Running Backs. [...]

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  6. Oppy says:

    Didn’t Reggie Bush sign with Detroit two weeks ago?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Mark says:

    If they don’t do something effective for the running game, Aaron is going to be the most expesive punching bag in the world!

    “Running game,” does not equal, run a tank up the middle three times and punt in the second half when your milking a lead. <MM using CB

    Make the defense pay for loading up to the pass. 2&10, 3&5 are down and distance to burn the defense. Vision and burst are far more important than size or strength.

    I appreciate MM and TT, but I don't understand their blind spot when it comes to the running game. A first round draft pick at running back would be the best thing for Aaron's health.

    BTW, Capers should want them to draft a RB in the first round, too. Watching Lynch and Bradshaw carve up your guys while our offense counters with CB and RG has to make the defense feel castrated. Get the "D" a break at critical times by grinding out a first.

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