The Green Bay Packers could have the best offensive backfield in the league


Green Bay Packers running back

James Starks

rushes the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports photograph

With the re-signing of running back James Starks, the Green Bay Packers are continuing on in a direction that one year ago we may never have thought possible – continuing to improve the run game.

And by bringing Starks back into the family, the Packers have solidified what could be the best and deepest position on the team – in fact, this may be the best backfield in the league.

Led by Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy, and complemented last season by the durability (in comparison to past years) of Starks, the Packers pounded out nearly 1,700 yards on the ground in 2013. Throw in the Cincinnati game when Johnathan Franklin subbed for the injured Starks and picked up more than 100 yards in a single half and the Packers were around 1,800 yards on the ground.

As a team when it was all said and done, Green Bay finished with 2,136 rushing yards in 2013, good enough for a seventh ranking in the league .

The addition of DuJuan Harris will give the Packers one of the deepest and most diverse running games in the league. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

That’s been unheard of in these parts over the past few decades … and it was done without DuJuan Harris who was penciled in at the start of the 2013 training camp as the team’s starter. Throw Harris into the mix and the Packers have the makings of the most diverse and intriguing set of backs in all of football.

Yes, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, the Lions have Reggie Bush and the Bears have Matt Forte … but none of these teams have the depth and diversity that the Packers now have in their backfield.

The question will be whether the Packers will keep all of these backs. Will there be enough room on the roster and if so, how do they utilize the talents of all four? Lacy has become the three-down back the Packers have been searching for since Ahman Green retired, but the Packers did an excellent job of utilizing Starks last season in a spot rotation system that provided him with nearly 90 carries. His effectiveness was clear and he picked his spots well, averaging well over 5 yards per carry when given the chance.

Starks had some timely performances that helped the team to some important wins last season. Remember when he ran for 132 yards against the Washington Redskins when Lacy went down after his first run from scrimmage with a concussion? That was Starks’ breakout game.

Starks also broke runs for 40 yards five other times; six runs were for more than 20 yards. He also turned in an 88-yard performance in the Packers season finale against the Chicago Bears. We tend to forget his importance in that particular game.

But the Packers haven’t forgotten his importance. In fact, the team’s efforts to re-sign him clearly underscores how important they feel he is for the team’s offense.

Packers’ 1-2 Punch:

Lacy and Starks in 2013

Eddie LacyJames Starks
Missed Tackles6122

Source: Pro Football Focus

The only drawback to Starks has been his injury history, but that’s another reason why the Packers should carry at least three and possibly all four of these backs on the roster. A few years ago, the Packers carried four and five tight ends, so it’s possible the Packers could lighten the load at that position and shift it to running backs.

As the Packers go through OTAs and head into training camp this summer, all eyes will be on the competition at the position. While Lacy will be the clearcut choice as

Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

the starter, the other three will certainly amp up their games in the battle for the backup spot. Starks and Harris will have the upper hand, but there’s no counting out Franklin, who struggled at times his rookie season, but showed enough promise to be in the mix as well.

Going from famine to feast at the running back position the past 12 months has been by design. The Packers understand that Aaron Rodgers cannot carry the full load – though his absence from the lineup in 2013 showed that the running game alone cannot carry the team either. But in tandem – with Rodgers healthy and a full stable of running backs – this offense could become what we have all hoped for the past few years. We know what the passing game can do, but with a solid running game and the best QB in the game – watch out.

2014 might be the best Packers offensive team in many years. If these running backs keep the chains moving, it will open up the field for Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Jarrett Boykin.

Re-signing Starks might be one of the best moves yet by Ted Thompson in this offseason. In one fell swoop, he brought back a valuable player who has helped the team win in the past, while bolstering what is becoming the team’s focal point – the running backs position.