Examining The 2011 Green Bay Packers: Running Backs

Last week, Tex did a great job of looking at the Green Bay Packers' quarterback situation. Today, we have the second article in this long series looking at the future of the Packers roster, looking at the running backs. Ryan Grant is poised to make a comeback from injury and James Starks looks set for a possible breakout season, but what will become of Brandon Jackson and Dimitri Nance? For the purposes of this series, we are considering John Kuhn to be a fullback, despite his significant number of carries this season. 

Running Backs (4): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Brandon Jackson, Dimitri Nance

#25 Ryan Grant

Player Progression (progress/stagnate/regress from 2010): Stagnate

Team Standing (expanded/same/diminshed role): Diminished role

Likelihood of Long-Term Retention: Average

So, hear me out on Ryan Grant stagnating and having less of a role. This is less of a knock on Grant than it is a vote of confidence in James Starks. I believe that the emergence of Starks means that his role will be diminished significantly from 2009 and from 2010 training camp and pre-season. Additionally, with Jackson leaving and with Ted Thompson's best player available draft strategy, you never know when a big early round talent could burst through the door to take away carries and playing time. I expect Grant to recover fully from his injury and make a serious impact on the team next year, but I expect significantly less than 300 carries out of him as Starks takes up a bigger role with the team and possible additions get playing time as well.

#44 James Starks

Player Progession: Progress

Team Standing: Expanded role

Likelihood of Long-Term Retention: High

After his performances at the end of the regular season and throughout the playoffs, I think that a lot of Packers fans are very high on James Starks. I'm one of those fans. I don't think he has elite level talent, but with an improved offensive line and teams focusing on our passing game, it's very reasonable to say that Starks could be in line for a season where he averages four yards per carry, which would be a massive boost to our offense. If Grant comes into camp as "the guy" and Starks is the change of pace back, it's a scary proposition for opposing defenses. Starks was solid when he was asked to carry the ball 15 or more times, but he'll be a serious weapon if he's the No. 2 and he can give it 110% for the time he is on the field. Keeping both Grant and Starks healthy could lead to the Packers having a lethal one-two punch, which will only make Aaron Rodgers' job easier.

#32 Brandon Jackson

Player Progression: Stagnate

Team Standing: Less of a role

Likelihood of Long-Term Retention: Poor

Brandon Jackson is a free agent this offseason, and with Starks' star on the rise, opportunities may be limited for Jackson next season should he choose to return to the Packers. It seems very likely that he would be relegated almost exclusively to a third down back role, getting little to no touches on first and second downs or in obvious running situations. Jackson has been a decent player for the team since his arrival, especially in blitz pickup in third down passing situations, but he has disappointed as an every down back. If Jackson wants to return to the Packers, there is a role for him, but it is unlikely to be the role he wants. For that reason, he will probably test the market, should the labor negotiations get ironed out.

#23 Dimitri Nance

Player Progression: Stagnate

Team Standing: Less of a role

Likelihood of Long-Term Retention: Poor

Dimitri Nance might get a chance to come to training camp and try to win a roster spot, but he might have to do something truly spectacular to survive the first wave of cuts. Grant's return from injury and Starks' emergence means there is almost no place on the team for Nance. Even if Jackson leaves, Thompson and McCarthy are likely to look at rookies and free agents for guys who can become great third down specialists. Unless Nance gets really good at blocking and catching, really fast, he's unlikely to have a job with the Packers next season.

As a team, the Acme Packing Company writers came to a consensus that the running back position is important for Thompson and McCarthy to address in the off-season, but not extremely important. While Grant and Starks are very good players who will have NFL jobs for years, neither is a bona-fide superstar and if one of those drops in the draft, they might be worth picking up. Additionally, with Jackson and Nance likely out the door, there should be one roster spot open for a new running back. We won't be reaching or breaking the bank for a back, but a traditional "day one" draft pick (before they changed the format for TV) or a moderately priced free agent third down back seem like possibilities. 

What do you guys think? Let us know in the poll. 

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