As our offseason review of the Green Bay Packers' roster rolls along, we move a little farther into the offensive backfield and switch gears from breaking down the quarterbacks to analyzing the running backs.
The 2013 season saw an influx of new talent at the position, as Ted Thompson and company used a second-round pick on Alabama's Eddie Lacy and a fourth-rounder on Johnathan Franklin from UCLA. Looking to end a drought of 100-yard rushers that extended back to the 2010 season, the Packers needed to find a productive ground game to have balance and success on offense in 2013. And holy cow, did they find what they were looking for.
Packers 2013 Running Backs
Practice Squad: Orwin Smith
Like a lot of the areas of the Packers, the running back position was looked at by most with tempered optimism coming into 2013. James Starks had shown he can produce, but couldn't stay healthy. John Kuhn was reliable in pass blocking, but wasn't the most dynamic runner. And DuJuan Harris came in with some momentum from the previous season's success, but hadn't yet proven himself over a whole season. Likewise, Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin - the pair of rookie running backs taken in the draft - came in with high hopes, but plenty of questions.
Almost immediately, a lot of the trepidation Packers fans had about the running game began to manifest. DuJuan Harris was put on injured reserve with a knee injury before the season started. James Starks once again missed time early with a knee injury of his own. And while Jonathan Franklin showed some flashes of potential, his fumbling issues blew any trust the coaches had in him, limiting his opportunities before an injury put him, too, on IR.
Of course, none of that mattered because 2013 was the Eddie Lacy show.
It didn't start out so hot with Lacy fumbling in the first game of the year but after that, it was on. In just his first season, Lacy took all the questions about his durability, all the doubts about his conditioning, and all the concerns about a warm weather guy playing in the cold and, like many of the defenders who stood in his way, steamrolled those questions into goddamn oblivion. It wasn't quite Adrian Peterson-level rookie dominance, but still, given the Packers' rushing attack in previous years, Lacy was a godsend. Even when Aaron Rodgers went down with a collarbone injury, the rookie - while consistently facing an extra man in the box - kept churning out yards. In fact, you could make the argument Lacy actually got better as the season went along.
A lot of that had to do with Lacy's skillset. Unlike other brusiers who only use their size to gain yards, Lacy showed throughout the entire season what made him such an effective back in the SEC. His quick feet, soft hands and excellent vision made him in a lot of people's eyes, the best back the Packers have had since Ahman Green. It also made him something else - PFWA's Rookie of the Year and the favorite for the Associated Press' Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Overall grade: B+
If this grade were relative to previous Packers running backs, this year's grade would undoubtedly be an A+. Is that the highest grade? Is there an A-infinity? If there is, that's what they'd receive. Unfortunately, I can only grade this year's performance on this year alone. And while there were bright spots among the other backs (notably, one 100-yard game apiece from Starks and Franklin), it was Eddie Lacy who carried the Packers season. Without him, the running backs would likely get a full grade lower at least. The good thing is, with Lacy, Harris, and Franklin all 25 years old or younger, they're just getting started. A higher grade next year doesn't seem unreasonable and, for the first time in a decade, it actually might be expected.