13

March

2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Packers Running Back Prospects

North Carolina RB Gio Bernard

North Carolina RB Gio Bernard

Running back can be a tough position to evaluate headed into the NFL Draft.

Take last year for example. Trent Richardson was considered a “can’t-miss” guy at the top of the draft, but Alfred Morris, the 173rd overall pick, had the best season of all rookie running backs last year.

This year’s draft doesn’t have a clear-cut top back. There isn’t a Richardson or an Adrian Peterson in this year’s draft class, but there are a handful of intriguing prospects that could step in and start for a team from day one.

Nearly all draft rankings have the same two guys at the top: Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard. Most have Lacy firmly entrenched as a first-round pick with Bernard projected to go in round two.

Lacy and Bernard are completely different backs. While Lacy is a physical, punishing runner, Bernard is a versatile player capable of doing damage in the passing game as well as between the tackles. In today’s pass-happy NFL, I prefer Bernard as a prospect slightly ahead of Lacy.

But beyond the top two guys, this year’s crop of running backs has some quality depth. Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Clemson’s Andre Ellington, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball all have a chance to be selected on Day 2.

Perhaps the most interesting running back in this year’s class is Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina. Lattimore suffered the most gruesome knee injuries I’ve ever seen last season, and concerns over his long-term health will likely cause him to drop to the third round.

It would be an upset if the Packers don’t add a running back at some point this offseason, whether it’s a veteran via free agency or a young guy through the draft.

1. Gio Bernard, North Carolina (5-8, 202)

  • Draft stock: Late 1st/Early 2nd
  • 40 time: 4.53, 225-pound bench: 19 reps, 10-yard split: 1.53
  • Two-year starter, declared after his RS Sophomore season.
  • The second round is likely where Bernard will be selected, but I really believe he’s the best running back in this class. On top of being a talented runner, he’s a dangerous return man and receiver. I see Bernard as Ray Rice 2.0, and I really think he’d be a natural fit in the Packers’ offense.
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.

19

January

What Route Will Packers Take at Running Back?

Packers RB DuJuan Harris

Packers RB DuJuan Harris

For the third consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers failed to have a 1,000-yard running back.

To start the season, the Packers surprised many by signing veteran Cedric Benson and making him the starter. Benson was supposed to be “the guy” in the backfield. And while he added another dimension to the offense, he suffered a Lisfranc injury Oct. 7 against Indianapolis and was sidelined for the rest of the season.

In all likelihood, Benson will not return next season.

Second-year running back Alex Green stepped in and filled Benson’s shoes as the starter. Green showed flashes but failed to make the most of his opportunity.

So when James Starks was ready to return, the team gave him a shot as the primary ball carrier. Starks was more effective than Green, but a late-season knee injury threatened his season. Facing the possibility of putting Starks on injured reserve, the team needed a backup plan.

In comes Ryan Grant–the guy the Packers showed no interest in re-signing when he was an unrestricted free agent last summer. But desperate times called for desperate measures. Grant carried the ball 20 times for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans, perhaps the best game by a Packers running back all season.

But ultimately, the Packers went with second-year player DuJuan Harris, whom they called up from the practice squad Dec. 1. Harris was likely the team’s most consistent option in the backfield but may be best-suited for a change-of-pace role within the offense.

This begs the question–Who will be the Packers’ starting running back next season?

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests that the Packers are “seeking (a) leading man at running back.” There are several veteran runners scheduled to become free agents.

Among the unrestricted free agents the Packers could go after are St. Louis’ Steven Jackson, Miami’s Reggie Bush, Dallas’ Felix Jones and the New York Jets’ Shonn Greene. Jackson would be ideal, but the Packers would probably only be interested in him in the secondary market given he will be 30 in July.

The Packers have been tied to Jackson for some time, but he’s certainly declining athletically. Bush fell 14 yards short of his second-straight 1,000-yard season, and he’ll likely be too expensive for the Packers. Jones and Greene both have shown flashes, but neither player has lived up to their draft position.

30

December

Packers at Vikings: Keys To The Game

Aaron Rodgers vs. Minnesota Vikings

Rodgers in a baseball cap and waving a celebratory towel would be a welcome sight on Sunday. Green Bay can clinch a playoff bye with a win

Here we are in week 17 and another season is nearly in the books.  The Green Bay Packers end their regular season schedule with a trip to Minnesota to face the Vikings.  A few years back, the NFL changed its schedule making such that the last week of the season would be a divisional game for all teams.  This was in the hopes that the games would be meaningful and teams wouldn’t rest slews of their starters in preparation for the postseason.

The NFL has gotten its wish this year and with this game.  Each team has something on the line.  The Vikings need to win to secure a playoff spot.  The Packers can clinch the second seed in the NFC with a win.  Should the Vikings win, the Packers can still gain the #2 seed with a San Francisco and a Seattle loss.

Last week’s format was a success so I’m going stick with a “Keys to the Game” theme.  Let’s see what will likely determine the outcome of tomorrow’s contest.

Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson

I feel like a broken record with the thoughts I share about Peterson but given the season he is having, they bear some repeating.  According to ESPN, Peterson has 1,898 yards in 15 games.  102 yards shy of 2,000 yards, an accomplishment only six other running backs can claim.  Peterson is also 208 yards shy of the 28 year-old and all-time single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

Peterson is surely going to win a major award after this season.  Whether it’s the Comeback Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player award or Offensive MVP, Peterson deserves at least one of those.  I watched some of the tape of Peterson’s first game at Green Bay this season.   He is running as quickly and as hard as ever.  Many of the yards he picked up on long runs in that game came after contact.  Nowadays, we see more and more backs running out of bounds or diving to the ground before the big hit.  Peterson is a throwback and reminds me a lot of Walter Payton.

28

December

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 16 vs. Tennessee Titans

My, where should we go for Hobbjective analysis this week?  I mean the entire game was essentially a highlight reel for the Packers, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how accurate much of the second half is in terms of execution because it’s pretty obvious that the Titans have stopped trying at some point and just want to go home.

One play that I think hasn’t gotten as much attention as perhaps is warranted is Ryan Grant’s first TD in the 4th quarter.  The reason why I say this is because it’s one occasion where the Titans should be 90% sure that it’s going to be a run but they still manage to get blocked out of the play.

The Situation: The blowout is almost over at 41 to 0 and the Packers just need to burn 12 minutes as the Titans stopped trying back in the 2nd quarter.  To make matters worse, WR Jeremy Ross (he of the “punt, pass and puke” play from last week) rips off a 58 yard return subbing in for an injured Randall Cobb.  The Packers start the play off at the 7 yard line.

The Formation: The Packers are in a “jumbo” 1-2-2 formation (1WR-2TE-2RB) where OG Greg Van Roten (64) is eligible and has lined up as a tight end inline with the right tackle.  Offset to the right of OB Van Roten is TE DJ Williams (84), one of their better run blocking tight ends.  RB Ryan Grant (25) is lined up 7 yards behind QB Graham Harrell (6) with FB John Kuhn (30) lined up directly behind the right tackle.  WR James Jones (89) is the lone receiver split out wide left and isn’t in the screen cap, and for all intents and purposes for this play is irrelevant.  On the offensive line, a further permutation has emerged with LT Marshall Newhouse (74), LG TJ Lang (70), Evan Dietrich-Smith (62), RG Josh Sitton (71) and RT Don Barclay (67) going from left to right.

27

December

Which Packers RB Will Have the “Hot Hand” the Rest of the Season?


 

Ryan Grant

Could Ryan Grant be the hot hand Mike McCarthy talks about?

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during his Wednesday news conference that he will continue to stick with the “hot hand” at running back.

Usually when a coach says something like that it means he has a number of options at the position, which often means he has no options because he has a bunch of guys that don’t stand out and aren’t very good.

 

I don’t think that’s necessarily the case with the Packers running backs. Each guys brings a little something to the table, even if they aren’t a full meal.

 

With Alex Green returning from a concussion, McCarthy has another option as he experiments early in games to try and find somebody with that hot hand.

None of these guys will ever be confused with Adrian Peterson, but there are at least some viable options now. Whoever gets the nod will be running behind an offensive line that appears to be more aggressive thanks to the addition of Evan Dietrich-Smith at center and Don Barclay at right tackle.

Ryan Grant
Can Grant really keep this up? He actually looks like he’s got a little something left. Grant is usually good when the thermometer starts plummeting, but what he’s done so far has come out of nowhere. When he fumbled against the Bears, I thought he might wind up back on his couch. But McCarthy put him back out there and that confidence has paid off.

Alex Green
My money is on Green being the hot guy. I like what he brings as a receiver and if he’s patient enough, he can hit holes with authority. There’s some newfound power on the offensive line with Dietrich-Smith and Barclay. Let’s see what Green can do with 10-15 carries behind those big guys.

DuJuan Harris
This guy cracks me up. He takes the handoff, ducks his already short frame behind his linemen, then explodes out of nowhere through a crack up front. Patience and explosiveness, two of the most important traits a running back can have, appear to be no problem for Harris.

James Starks
Should we even include Starks as an option? If Grant, Green or Harris catch fire, should McCarthy even bother giving Starks another shot? If he does get another shot, how many carries can we expect before he’s back on the trainer’s table? So many questions…

23

December

Keys to the Game: Green Bay Packers vs. Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson and Tramon Williams

The Packers need to bear down on Johnson this Sunday and keep him from running free

I’m going to depart a bit from the usual Key Matchups format because the Tennessee Titans are an unfamiliar opponent of the Green Bay Packers and also due to the injuries on both sides.

We will return to our regularly scheduled “Key Matchups” next week when the Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings to round out the 2012 regular season.  For this week, it’s more of a “What to Watch For”.

Titans Running Back Chris Johnson

Johnson gets hidden, sometimes even forgotten, in Tennessee because they are one of the smaller markets.  And let’s be honest, the Titans have been very forgettable the past four seasons.  But 1,200 yards and five touchdowns is nothing to overlook this week for the Packers.

Johnson had a 94 yard touchdown run in Tennessee’s Monday night’s dismantling of the New York Jets.  With that run, Johnson set a new NFL record with six career touchdown runs over 80 yards.

He’s still a very good running back and clearly has the ability to break a long run at any time.  Green Bay struggled to contain another great running back three weeks ago when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had a long scoring run and ran wild all day.

It’s asking a lot of any defense to contain a top back, but Green Bay has had recent success defending the run and can again this week.  It comes down to the one-one-one matchups at the line, specifically with Ryan Pickett and BJ Raji.  Each played very well last week against Chicago and Matt Forte.

Tennessee’s offensive line grades out better than does the Bears’ but with top wide receiver Kendall Wright out this week, the Titans won’t have as many options in the passing game. Green Bay may be able to focus more on loading up the box, as they say.

If all else fails, just tackle.  The Packers have had more than their fair share of tackling issues over the past two seasons and it cost them in the Vikings game.  Fortunately it didn’t cost them the game, but in a close contest, a missed tackle can be the one play that prevents them from getting the “W”.