The Packers’ running game will improve this season, mostly because the laws of NFL growth dictate that not achieving at least a moderate improvement is impossible. They spent two draft picks on running backs, first selecting Eddie Lacy in the second round, and then two rounds later grabbing Johnathan Franklin. Investing that heavily and that early in one position means the low bar set by just 3.9 yards per carry has to rise a little. Right? Sure.
When that happens a Packers offense which is still led by passing dynamo Aaron Rodgers and Pervy Harvin clone Randall Cobb will induce much more fright, because then opposing defenses will actually have to worry about defending a ball carrier. That’s been only a minor concern during the Packers’ 43 straight regular-season games without a 100-yard rusher.
And you know, all of that will be just dandy for Packers fans, who will notice only if their limbs aren’t completely numb because they didn’t wear the proper Lambeau attire. But for our fantasy purposes, this could be a steaming mess.
Uncertainty lives in June, as this is the time when we make a sport out of worrying about things which, in hindsight, weren’t worth the effort later. So let’s go about that fun now, because there’s plenty of potential for a troubling running running back depth chart in Green Bay.
We know about Lacy, and his bruising, north-south running style that led to 1,511 all-purpose yards during his final season at Alabama with 19 touchdowns. And we know about Franklin, with his greater ability as a pass catcher (33 receptions for 323 yards and two touchdowns during his senior season at UCLA).
The problem is that we also know about DuJuan Harris, and the small but impressive sample size he provided during limited time at the end of 2012, rushing for 4.6 yards per attempt during the regular season on 34 carries. He then added 100 yards on the ground and two touchdowns during Green Bay’s two playoffs games, though his YPA fell to a more plodding 3.6.
The presence of just those three has made the uncertainty in the Packers’ backfield enough to keep pharmacies in business throughout the summer. But it could get worse before it gets better.
Hit us where it hurts, Tyler Dunne:
The answer could be Lacy and Franklin. Maybe Harris — that cyst removed from his lung — proves he’s more than Samkon Gado. And watching OTAs and minicamp, these past few weeks, you just can’t write off Green yet. Last season, he couldn’t perform a simple, weightless body squat and needed to be carried after one game. The Packers appear now to be giving him a fair shot at the job.
All five are sharply different in size and style.
I still think the end game here is a platoon between Lacy and Franklin which favors the former over the latter, but only slightly. Their current ADPs reflect that likelihood, with Lacy coming off the board at 53.7 overall according to Fantasy Football Calculator, while Franklin is about four rounds further down at 98th.
But even without the extra congestion provided by Harris and to a lesser extent Green and James Starks (umm yep, a five-way competition), certainty isn’t as easy to find among rookie running backs as you’d like to believe. That’s mostly tied to pass protection, an unpredictable skill which sometimes takes time to groom at the professional level. And if there’s another option on the depth chart who’s more skilled as a blocker, he’ll ascend above the lesser player, regardless of the draft investment he carries.
We saw that with David Wilson last year after the Giants’ first rounder was used sparingly in the running game over the first month of 2012 due to both his poor pass blocking and his inability to properly grasp a football without putting it on the ground. Instead, Andre Brown (who was essentially a rookie too after receiving only two carries in 2011) had 220 all-purpose yards between weeks two and three, along with three touchdowns. Throughout the same stretch, Wilson had four rushing yards, as he waited to eventually bust out much later in the season during a Week 14 win over New Orleans.
So when we combine that inherent uncertainty with the depth chart congestion in Green Bay, it’s difficult to have confidence in a Packers RB as anything beyond a flex play. It’s appropriate then that Lacy — the highest rated of the group, for now — is generally in the company of Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Ivory, and Ahmad Bradshaw in fantasy rankings.
Long term, his upside is ahead of those three. But short term, there’s a whole lot of shoulder shrugging going on, and owners who spend a pick of any early significance on Lacy could look like this come late October…