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Packers 2015 running back acquisitions: Little-known rookies played little roles

Green Bay brought three rookie running backs into the organization in 2015, but none of them played a major role in their first year.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2015 season. Today, we continue our series by examining the running backs.

The Green Bay Packers opened their 2015 training camp with three rookie running backs on the 90-man roster. Each of them ended up spending some or all of the 2015 season on the active roster, but not a single one made a significant contribution on offense.

Here is a look at the three players and what we expect from them moving forward into 2016.

Alonzo Harris

How acquired: Signed as rookie undrafted free agent
College: Louisiana-Lafayette
2015 stats: 4 carries, 19 yards, 1 target, 0 catches, 0 TDs; released prior to week 13

The 237-pound Harris always seemed like an odd choice to make the team out of camp. His bruising style isn't a traditional change of pace from Eddie Lacy and he isn't a threat in the passing game or as a third-down back. Harris broke his hand before the season and was used sparingly, mostly on special teams. One 16-yard run against Kansas City represents the vast majority of his offensive production, and when he failed to stand out on special teams and the Packer run game started to suffer due to Lacy's physical fitness issues, the Packers decided to move in a different direction as well.

Harris was released on December 1st  for missing curfew, and the next player on this list was promoted to the active roster. Whatever they thought they saw in Harris never managed to manifest.

John Crockett

How acquired: Signed as rookie undrafted free agent
College: North Dakota State
2015 Stats: 9 carries, 21 yards, 0 targets, 0 TDs; On practice squad weeks 1-12, promoted to active roster week 13

Most expected Raijon Neal to make the team out of camp, but I actually liked Crockett quite a bit. He's not a burner, but he is shifty, and I thought he could at least be a solid contributor in the passing game. He was not. Crockett's shiftiness often manifested itself as too much dancing behind the line, or attacking the wrong hole. The North Dakota State product briefly impressed in his debut against the Lions, but he was frequently stopped for a loss and failed to draw even a single target in the passing game. Crockett was a rookie and some of this is likely just inexperience, but the boom-or-bust style is going to have to change if he wants to stick around the league.

Crockett showed better agility than the other Packer rookie backs, but most of those players are former UDFAs or waiver wire castoffs and he is not athletic enough to overcome poor vision and poor fundamentals. If he can add some polish in the offseason maybe he can put the underlying tools to better use. It's more likely that he is replaced by a new crop of undrafted fodder next season.

Aaron Ripkowski

How Acquired: 6th-round draft pick (#206 overall)
College: Oklahoma
2015 Stats: 0 carries, 1 catch, 18 yards

Ripkowski is exactly the type of player you draft to replace John Kuhn, the fan favorite fullback and personal Sam to Aaron Rodgers' Frodo. A 255 lbs. Polish Hammer with the words "rip" and "kow" right there in his name, Ripkowski was a valuable special teams player and a perfectly adequate fullback when called upon to actually ply his trade. Ripkowski occasionally puts his head down to go for the kill shot when simply occupying an oncoming defender would suffice, but his physical skills are well beyond what Kuhn can provide at this point and his blocking far superior, though in limited action.

Ripkowski, strangely, did not get a carry on the season, though he did have one 18-yard reception, and so it is impossible to judge him on his ball skills. What is clear though, is that John Kuhn's talents as runner, never great to begin with, have been in decline. The idea of a big, bulky short-yardage back is one of those NFL anachronisms that just won't die no matter how ineffective it is as a strategy, but given the choice between the aged Kuhn and the bigger, faster, stronger back, I know who I will take. Kuhn is a free agent, but he's shown himself willing to play for peanuts, so his return isn't out of the question. Still, carrying even one limited-action fullback is a luxury many teams do not indulge in, and it would be a mistake to waste a roster spot on two of them for a second consecutive season.