The Packers’ once-feared offense has been reduced to an erratic mess, and its one-dimensional approach has put more pressure on Aaron Rodgers to be more precise than ever with the least-talented supporting cast he’s had in quite some time.
While the perimeter players are another discussion for another time, probably the most disconcerting thing has been the lack of a running game. The Green Bay Packers have played 12 football games and have a measly 5 rushing touchdowns. Possibly more remarkably, none of them come from a tailback. Aaron Rodgers has accounted for 60% of the running touchdowns, and Aaron GOATkowski has the other two. While I expect Christine Michael to get at least one by the end of the year, the fact remains the running game has been pitiful and needs an upgrade.
Enter the 2017 NFL Draft class. Stocked full of talent and diverse styles of runners, the Packers should surely be able to find an upgrade, or multiple upgrades, at the position. Two of the major studs in the class declared this week that they are forgoing their senior seasons of eligibility to enter the Draft: Leonard Fournette of LSU, and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.
Leonard Fournette, 6’1” 230, LSU
Fournette was the #1 overall recruit coming out of High School in 2014, and the hype machine has been in hyperdrive for the past two seasons. He’s a runaway train with the ball in his hands, and has the tendency to explode for huge yardage in games.
He’s a bull of a runner with breakaway speed. He’ll likely run in the 4.40-4.45 range. He runs through arm tackles and doesn’t go down easy. Once he’s to the second level, he’s a terror for the defense and has a nasty stiff arm. He has above average burst, and accelerates to full speed quickly. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, but I don’t believe it to be one of his strengths. The only major concern I have with Fournette is if he’s too linear to be effective at the next level. He lacks elite lateral agility, which I understand isn’t why you draft a 230 lb back, but it’s a concern. I think his floor is higher than most backs, but I don’t know how much better he’ll get.
While I haven’t completed my eval of Fournette, he’d be a definite upgrade for the Packers. While the Packers haven’t had a power back in a while, the best comparison for Fournette to this point that I’ve seen is Larry Johnson, the former stud for the Chiefs. I think Fournette would be an effective player in Green Bay, but a more pro-style run game scheme would fit him better, like Washington or Kansas City.
Christian McCaffrey, 6’0” 202, Stanford
McCaffrey has been an outstanding collegiate athlete, finishing second in the Heisman voting as a Sophomore. While his production took a bit of a dip as a Junior, most of that is a testament to his team’s talent level dropping, rather than his play.
He’s a bit of an enigma, to be honest. Yes, he’s a white running back, which is unusual. But McCaffrey is a very good receiver out of the backfield. I don’t think he’s a workhorse tailback in the NFL, but his versatility and elite quickness and ability to make people miss will make him a swiss-army knife. McCaffrey can be used as a tailback, 3rd down back, kick and punt returner, and slot receiver. I think he’ll run in the high 4.4s or low 4.5s. He’s fast enough, but he wins with his quickness and hips. He’s well built, and put together.
I think McCaffrey would be an excellent asset to Green Bay’s offense, but not in the first round. Randall Cobb (kind of) has a similar role in the offense, but he clearly hasn’t been the same caliber of weapon since 2014. McCaffrey would be an upgrade at running back, but his effectiveness in the return game would also be an added bonus. I think peak McCaffrey is Brian Westbrook, but his floor is Chris Thompson, the Redskins’ third down back.
Ultimately, I doubt the Packers end up with either of these two, but both would be welcome additions to the Green and Gold offense. I think to optimize the Packers’ offense, a combination of two of these styled players would be most effective. I think that with how deep this running back class is, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Packers nabbed two backs in this draft - they just might not get one of these two.