Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The running back position may be the most uncertain this coming offseason. The biggest question of all though may be whether the Packers have found a legitimate starting running back in DuJuan Harris.
Our series looking at the state of the Packers’ roster continues, with its focus staying in the offensive backfield. Running back is an odd position for the Packers right now. There are a few players who are not currently under contract that may vastly change this analysis, the best example being Cedric Benson. At the same time, the team does have a group of players that may be able to get the job done. There are bound to be a variety of opinions about how capable the group under contract is at the moment, but this just means it will be an interesting unit to watch this offseason.
Under contract for 2013:
The best way to sum up Kuhn in the Packers’ offense is that he is a jack of all trades, master of none. Kuhn is called on to run the ball in short yardage situations, catch the ball, be a third down back, pass block, run block, and contributes on special teams. He does all of these things reasonably well….but he’s not really great at any of these things. In this way he’s the antithesis of many more specialized fullbacks who are often punishing run blockers. There are pros and cons to having the lone fullback on the roster be this style of player, and most Packer fans have made up their mind on whether they love the cult hero "KUUUUUUUHNNNN!" or secretly pine for the return of Vonta Leach or Quinn Johnson. Kuhn should be expected to make the team next year and continue his versatile style of play, unless the Packers make a move in the offseason to get more a pure run blocking FB.
Green played in 12 games in 2012 and generally put up disappointing numbers (464 yards on 135 attempts with a 3.4 average and no touchdowns). Green was able to flash talent during the season and string together a few game stretches that gave Packer fans hope that he may develop into an answer in the running game, but then he fell off the face of the earth at the end of the season. Next year should be a make or break year for Green and provide answers as to whether he will be able to develop into an every down back for the Packers, settle into a third down back role, or develop lingering injury problems that could hamper his career.
Speaking of lingering injury problems ruining a running back’s career, let’s talk about James Starks. It would be a stretch to say that Starks had a good year in 2012. He played in six games, was a healthy scratch for a number of other games, and just seemed to be fighting one injury or another from the second preseason game on. Starks was able to flash talent here and there, most notably on a 22 yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings in week 13, but as a whole seemed lost in the shuffle this year. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him cut loose, but with his affordable contract it’s more likely the Packers keep him around through training camp and see what he is able to do with one more offseason to get right.
Perhaps the most interesting back the Packers will have next year at this point is DuJuan Harris. The best single word to describe Harris at this point is small. He has looked promising, but has a small sample size of games (4 in Green Bay and 5 in Jacksonville) and carries (34 in 2012), which makes it hard to know exactly what he brings to the table. He also happens to have a small build for a running back (5’8" 203 lbs) which will make some question if he can be an every down back. Harris has shown an ability to make a lightning-quick cut and fast burst to hit the hole. He also has shown the most promise of any of the backs currently on the roster.
The last back under contract is a bit of a forgotten man, Brandon Saine. Saine played in six games in 2012 but did not have a single carry. Once again, an affordable price tag should give him a pass to training camp next year, but what the Packers have in him is unclear.
Positional Grade: C-
There looks to be enough talent to scrape together some sort of running attack, but none of these running backs are that inspiring either. Kuhn seems to be a good fit for the Packers, and their style of offense, but keeping a secondary blocking fullback wouldn’t be a bad idea to bolster the running game. Harris looks promising, but can he continue to perform as well as he did for the Packers late in the season with a full season’s worth of film on him? Green or Starks could work out, but that’s not a slam dunk. Saine is a mystery and never seemed to have a high ceiling anyways. In the end there’s lots of good enough, but little to no great players here.
Positional Need: 6 (out of 10)
I know some have talked about RB as potentially the biggest need for the Packers right now, but I’m just not there. It’s a need, sure, but other upgrades could come first. At the end of the day upgrade at RB will not dynamically change this offense unless the Packers find a true game changing back to carry the football. This ultimately is a crap shoot unless the team is going to invest in a big name free agent or is picking in the top 5 of the draft. The Packers are neither, and on some level they lack the will to fully commit to running the football. As a result this need can go to the back burner a bit longer.