For the first time since Ryan Grant's career derailed following his 2010 ankle injury, running back appears to be settled. Eddie Lacy may not have been the Packers' first choice -- there's no other way to read Ted Thompson trading down from the 53rd pick -- but the former Alabama tailback proved a remarkable find at the end of the second round. The only concern still surrounding Lacy is his long-term health, which is why Green Bay needs a reliable number two option to reduce his workload.
One of the biggest decisions as it relates to the running backs centers around James Starks. After three injury shortened seasons Starks finally put together a more-or-less full year performance, posting a career and team best 5.5 yards per carry while accumulating 493 yards on the ground. Starks' speed/power combination made him an excellent backup to Lacy.
The problem, of course, is that Starks becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason. With more than a few teams in search of a viable lead rusher (Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Tennessee should the team release Chris Johnson), it's entirely conceivable that Starks will garner a Michael Bush-level contract. For a Green Bay team dealing with far more significant needs than backup running back, it's hard to see Thompson investing that many resources in Starks. That said, at least one beat reporter says the Packers are interested in bringing him back, but it will need to be at the right price.
It's hard to ascertain exactly what the role of the fullback is in Mike McCarthy's offense. On the one hand, the Packers featured John Kuhn in many of their passing packages, specifically on third downs. However, part of the reason Green Bay wanted Kuhn in the backfield on passing downs was due to pass pro liabilities caused by the younger backs. Purely in terms of run blocking, McCarthy appears perfectly content to use singleback sets or line up tight ends in the backfield.
All of which is why John Kuhn is no guarantee to return to Green Bay next year. If the Packers feel that Johnathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, and Eddie Lacy have indeed improved as pass blockers, the need for Kuhn is significantly diminished. If Thompson can re-sign Kuhn for little more than the veteran minimum, he'll probably do it. Should Kuhn require anything more, the Packers are likely to move on.
While it's highly improbable that the Packers would replace Kuhn with a free agent, Michael Robinson is an interesting name. A former quarterback, Robinson has tremendous speed and athleticism for the position. While Pete Carroll didn't utilize him as a pass catcher very often in 2013, Robinson has been used in that manner before. That could make him an attractive option in McCarthy's offense.
The College Guys
If the Packers let James Starks walk, they're more likely to replace him with a runner of similar size and skill. That guy could very well be James Wilder Jr. from Florida State. At 6-1, 230, Wilder certainly looks like a dominant runner who can take some of the burden off of Eddie Lacy. What may allow Wilder to land on a team like the Packers on day three is his speed. Most estimates place him in the mid to high 4.5 range. With his power, that's certainly acceptable, but teams will grab faster tailbacks first, allowing him to fall.
Joe Don Duncan
For the majority of the football world, Dixie State's Joe Don Duncan was hardly a blip on the radar heading into this senior season. Now, after the 6-4, 270 pound H-Back put together a tremendous senior year (1045 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns), the scouting world is catching up. Duncan isn't a traditional fullback. He isn't really a tight end either. A more accurate description is he's a small offensive lineman with great hands and athleticism. In an explosive offense like the Packers', Duncan could not only be a dominant lead blocker, but he could also help fill the void left by Jermichael Finley.
After a two-touchdown performance in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl earned J.C. Copeland the game's MVP honors, quite a few people are taking notice. Copeland looks like a monster in person at 6-1, 270 pounds. The Packers haven't employed a fullback of his size since fellow LSU Tiger Quinn Johnson. While Copeland would add considerable physicality to the position, Green Bay has moved away from one-dimensional fullbacks in this mold.
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