On Sunday Night against Seattle, running back James Starks was thrust into an expanded role as the Green Bay Packers' featured running back when Eddie Lacy rolled his ankle early in the game. Starks responded in impressive fashion, picking up 95 yards on 20 carries and another 11 yards on four pass receptions.
Starks is likely in line for another big workload on Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, as Lacy works his way back from that injury. However, if Lacy is able to play, head coach Mike McCarthy indicated that the workload could be split 50/50 between the two backs if the team feels it necessary to conserve Lacy's snaps.
Starks' numbers throughout his career, on the other hand, suggest that he is at his best in that kind of a split workload situation or when he is used as a complementary player to another running back.
We broke down Starks' numbers by game, looking in particular at three different levels of workload - 10 to 14 total touches, 15 to 19, and 20 or more. What we found is that with a heavier workload, Starks tends to get less productive on a yards-per-carry and yards-per-reception basis.
Here are his averages:
Games with 10-14 touches: 4.56 yards per carry, 7.37 yards per reception
15-19 touches: 4.31 yards per carry, 7.53 yards per reception
20+ touches: 4.18 yards per carry, 5.67 yards per reception
Why is this the case? It could be that Starks wears down from contact over the course of a lot of carries, but it also may have to do with the way in which he is used.
Look, for example, at when the high-workload games took place. Three of the six games in that category took place during the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010. He started off hot against the Eagles, going 23 for 123 (5.35 per), but then dropped off significantly against Atlanta and Chicago, averaging just 2.6 and 3.4 yards per carry in those games.
However, in the two games in which Starks had more than 20 touches over the past three seasons, he got that workload in relief of an injured Lacy, and thus Starks' running style was not the focus of the opponents' preparations that week. The most recent instance was Sunday night, and the previous game was against Washington in 2013, when Lacy was concussed early on. In that game, Starks ran 20 times for 132 yards (a 6.6-yard average) and added four receptions for 36 yards.
Ultimately, Starks has only had six career games in which he has 20 or more touches, making that a bit of a small sample size as well, and one that has little consistency. This is in large part because for most of his career, Starks has been involved in some form of time share (2010 through 2012) or has been backing up Lacy (2013 to the present).
For comparison, Lacy has handled the ball 20 times or more in 18 separate games, exactly half of the 36 he has played (including playoffs). In those games, he averaged 4.36 yards per carry, but also over 8 yards per reception.
All told, the numbers suggest that the Packers would be wise to split up Starks' workload with either Lacy or third-string running back Alonzo Harris. Whether or not they will is a different matter.