James Starks Raymond T. Rivard photograph

The Green Bay Packers can’t let James Starks walk

James Starks runs for a second half touchdown while Jordy Nelson celebrates the score. Brian Jopek photograph

James Starks runs for a second half touchdown while Jordy Nelson celebrates the score.
Brian Jopek photograph


Remember last April on the second day of the NFL Draft when Eddie Lacy became the newest member of the Green Bay Packers and there were reports stirring about the mainstream media that James Starks was on the trading block?

Well, so much has changed since that day – and for the better of the Green Bay Packers and most notably Starks.

The hero of the 2010 Packers rush to the Super Bowl, Starks found himself buried at the bottom of the Packers running backs depth chart, behind the likes of Lacy, DuJuan Harris, Johnathan Franklin, and even a guy by the name of Alex Green. Remember him?

Then the players hit the field for the start of training camp and who was it that began to stand out? Starks. He was running hard, working hard and by all accounts was leapfrogging running backs in front of him.

By the time the first preseason game rolled around, he was the starter and everyone else was behind him at that point.

James Starks came on in relief and put up impressive numbers for the Packers in 2013. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

James Starks came on in relief and put up impressive numbers for the Packers in 2013.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

The ebb and flow of training camp ensued and by the time the Packers broke camp last September, guess who was on the roster? Yup. Starks. Harris got hurt and was out for the season, Green got cut and Lacy and Franklin were still projects. And while Lacy was the defacto starter at that point, Starks became the viable one after Lacy got hurt himself in the team’s home opener against the Washington Redskins and made way for Starks to show his stuff.

Running for more than 100 yards in the blowout against the Redskins, Starks started the third game on the road at Cincinnati. He was again rolling along toward another 100-yard game against the Bengals when he went down with a leg injury near the end of the first half. The Packers turned to Franklin in the second half where he put on a show of his own until he fumbled on a fourth and 1 play – a play that turned the game toward the Bengals and against the Packers.

Lacy came back to regain his starting role, picking up 99 yards in the win over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on Oct. 6. He wouldn’t that relinquish that starting role the rest of the season, but it also embedded Starks as a solid backup and a reliable back who added the second part of the 1-2 punch that the Packers hoped they would have in their running game.

Starks was out a couple of weeks, but came back when the Packers traveled to Minnesota. He was used sparingly, but effectively in that game when he carried seven times for 57 yards and blasted up the middle for a 25-yard touchdown run that showed the world that he wasn’t about to go anywhere.

From that point on, it was Lacy and Starks who occupied the Packers backfield. While Lacy was sensational as a rookie, picking up more than 1,100 yards, it was the breaks he got from Starks that helped keep him fresh through the 17-week NFL season. Lacy showed no signs of hitting the proverbial rookie wall and Starks served as the experienced backup who played smart and gave the Packers the needed boost when needed.

By season’s end, Starks, who enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, had gained 493 yards on 89 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per-carry. That’s a pretty good season considering his part-time appearances.

So, what does that translate into for Starks and the Packers? Well, for Starks, it no doubt means dollars; for the Packers, it means a tough decision on how to address Starks’ free agency? Do they let him test the waters of free agency – or do they try to re-sign the veteran for another run with the team?

Only Packers general manager Ted Thompson has that answer.

However, if I were the team’s general manager I would be calling his agent today and trying to find a way to get him back on the team’s roster.

The Packers need a solid running game from Starks

Nov 4, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44) rushes with the football during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field. The Packers defeated the Cardinals 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Yes, the Packers have both Harris and Franklin coming back to the roster, but like cornerbacks, you can never have enough quality running backs on the team. Remember back in early 2010 when the Packers were down to Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn in their backfield? They don’t want to run into another situation like that again.

How strong would the Packers running game be if the Packers had Lacy, Harris, Franklin and Starks on the roster? I would surely sleep well at night knowing that.

The question is this: Can the Packers balance the dollars and playing time to make it happen? Again, that’s a question for Thompson. In my mind, he should be doing everything within his power to make it happen.

The Packers have kept a bazillion tight ends in the past – why not cut some of that dead weight at that position and shift more resources to the offensive backfield? In fact, if the Packers pick up a talented tight end in the draft they could surely shorten the depth chart at that position.

In the end, the Packers would be better off with a strengthened and deep offensive backfield. With the renewed emphasis on the run game in Green Bay it’s time to keep our own and head into 2014 with enough horses in the barn to keep the team well stocked for the future.

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Tags: Green Bay Packers James Starks

  • billy

    dont let him walk, i agree, no one knows how Franklin and Harris return this year….one more thought….which has a slim to none chance of happening…Raid the Vikes for Griffen or Jarred Allen…Allen for his last two years would look nice in green and gold to me…..

  • http://sgvtribune.com/ Galileo

    even in a back-up roll , Starks couldn’t stay healthy…missing 4 games completely…just 89 carries….even at the veterans minimum he’ll be overpaid

  • JaKa

    Seeing how things played out (just like you said) Starks play-out out the end of the season as the No. 2 back for the team, it’s pretty certain Starks will at least make the team next year, if not retaining his No. 2 ranking. Franklin was drafted with that intent, if he played out his talents to earn it, but expectations were not made by Franklin, so either he had a few things to learn before taking the spot, or he needs more experience at the pro level and the Packers playbooks. Chances are to give him a shot at it again in preseason to see if improvements are made or he could wind up on the practice squad. It seems likely that he’ll get some kind of practice or ways to improve or show the same style and numbers he put out in college. Starks seems miles ahead of Franklin, in professionalism and knowing the system well enough to call plays and have him know exactly what his role is on every play called. D. Harris was really my guy going into things this year. He runs with almost as much spunk as Eddie Lacy who, if I were a team-mate, I’d call him Maniac; for his running style, which is like no other – ever. He’s like a beast on wheels, popping the clutch, and rock n’ roll! Looking at what they have now, don’t look for any help from the draft this year, there is no room for who they have now. Look at the potential Harris and Starks being healthy, Lacy healthy, and somehow kept from getting
    ‘banged up’ next year, with Starks keeping his job, or Harris taking it, either way I would think, by going on what they turned out this year, if continued, they will both make opening day of the season. It’s going to be a break away season coming, with the running game making the passing game, once again. MM is going to find he can rig the offense a little more like Mike Holmgran did. Start out or sometime early in the half get the pass game rolling 2 to 1 pass to run, then when up by 17 or even 14 if in the 4th qtr. go 1 to 2 pass to run. Those adjustments worked great with Favre in his prime or working on getting there, and they can work just as well with 12_A.R. the King of the League, between the backs. Just one comment on King Aaron: Something needs to be done in making him a “cold weather player”. Granted, -6 Fahrenheit is tough on any human being, every player on the Green Bay team needs to be their best down to -7 or 8, when the league will call the game off, whatever that is, but Rodgers was off his game, and off a mile, or so it seemed to me. Some balls were high or low and it looked like his poorest game ever, except maybe going back to his first game as a starter. To be blunt about it and I may have stepped over the line in Packerland for my critisism, but I think he played his worst game against this team, surrounded by pass rushers, which is not his fault, in the

  • Vvait Fang

    Hey, RR – interesting piece. To make it more meaningful, could you invest some time into an analysis of the running styles of Franklin, Harris and Starks, and then use that result to see what might fit the Packers best for next year. I get an inkling that as much as I loved watching Starks this year finally show what he did in 2010, it could really be that he’s another Aaron Kampman situation – someone who is really good at what he does, but just may not be necessary to the team this coming year.

  • fatalflaw

    Have to see what progress Harris and Franklin have made. I think Starks will cost too much considering he would occupy the 2nd position. My question is why he wasn’t used more in the SF game? He looked stronger and fresher than Lacy.

  • nicholas starling

    Starks should be kept, as he is arguably the teams best RB, but I don’t see a snowballs chance of that happening. With both Harris and Franklin showing flashes of greatness, their is simply no way Thompson is going to keep Starks at what will be a hefty price tag. He’ll get starting pay somewhere else for sure.

  • bkito

    I’m puzzled as to why the Packers did not use Starks more in that game against the Niners, Lacy’s ankle seemed to affect his power, and Starks looked like he could thread the Niners D every time he got the ball. Starks also seems like a better receiver if need to use him for that purpose.

  • Scott

    Billy, what need would the Packers have for Jared Allen, an aging DE in a 4-3, or Griffin? Allen is 30 pounds lighter than Jones who was too small to play in our base D where the DL are supposed to occupy blockers. Amd he is nowhere near a OLB. That’s ridiculous.
    As for Statks, the problem is one touched on throughout this article. He is constantly hurt. His entire career he’s been hurt. No chance we give him 3 or 4 million, and he’s likely going to sign for that elsewhere. You might sleep better having 4 good running backs, I’ll sleep better knowing we are going to have money to sign guys like Shields, EDS, Cobb, Nelson and so on.