The Green Bay Packers running back position saw some dizzying highs to go along with some of the lowest lows on the team. The stars of the position all performed admirably, but any time the team was forced to rely on their depth, things went south in a hurry. Still, Eddie Lacy drove the offense early, and Ty Montgomery’s late season transition ensured that the team would get solid production from the position when it counted most.
Starters: Eddie Lacy, Ty Montgomery, Aaron Ripkowski
71 carries, 360 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, 4 receptions, 28 yards, 0 TDS, 0 Fumbles
After a disappointing 2015, Eddie Lacy entered 2016 looking to bounce back, and he did in a major way, at least early. His 5.1 YPC was a career high and he was not held under 4 yards per carry in any game except against Dallas, where he was injured. While the passing game struggled early, Lacy did his best to punish defenses and create easy 2nd and 3rd downs. When healthy and fit he remains one of the best power backs in the league, adept in pass protection and no slouch in the passing game, however the ankle injury that ended his season likely ended his tenure in Green Bay as well, as he is now a free agent with injury and fitness concerns at a position where Ted Thompson is not likely to shell out much money.
Grading Lacy in a vacuum is extremely difficult. He was undoubtedly productive this season with the ball in his hands; however, the emergence of Ty Montgomery showed him to be a poor fit as an every down back. While it is not Lacy’s fault that Aaron Rodgers struggled early, part of his resurgence was due to Montgomery, and therefore, to Lacy’s absence. In any case, Lacy succeeded at what he was tasked with, and for that he should receive high marks.
Regular Season: 77 carries, 457 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, 44 receptions, 348 yards, 7.9 yards per reception, 3 TDs, 2 fumbles, 18 kick returns, 366 yards.
Playoffs: 25 carries, 91 yards, 3.64 yards per carry, 10 receptions, 77 yards, 7.7 yards per reception, 2 TDS, 0 fumbles.
Number 88 was a revelation for the offense, as Montgomery’s acumen in the passing game forced creativity from Mike McCarthy, and dictated that defenses either risk covering him outside with a linebacker or play zone. Aaron Rodgers was especially dangerous against zone this season, and Montgomery’s mere presence was one of the most valuable things about him. When Montgomery finally switched permanently to running back many thought it would just be a short term gimmick. Instead he dominated on the ground, forcing missed tackles everywhere, following his blocks like a seasoned vet, and punishing defenders at the end. He remained a threat through the air (though I would like to see more of this in the future) and was, in general, one of the cogs that made the Packer offensive machine work. He isn’t perfect, as some embarrassing misses in pass protection led to Aaron Rodgers taking some hits and Aaron Ripkowski seeing more playing time as a result, but by most accounts Montgomery is a very smart player who works hard on his game, and anyone new to the position tends to struggle in this area.
Lacy and Montgomery tell a tale of two seasons, and stitched together, had one of the better running back campaigns in recent Green Bay history.
Aaron “Kuhn” Ripkowski
Regular Season: 34 carries, 150 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 9 receptions, 46 yards, 5.1 yards per reception, 3 touchdowns, 0 fumbles.
Playoffs: 9 carries, 36 yards, 4 yards per carry, 4 receptions, 39 yards, 9.8 yards per reception, 1 TD, 1 fumble.
Most will probably remember Ripkowski as the man who fumbled in the Atlanta game, and while that play was disastrous, it was also an anomaly as it was the first fumble of his NFL career. Ripkowski is a powerful runner capable of dragging the pile, and most importantly, was also excellent in pass protection. While he was not terribly successful on 3rd and 4th down and short, succeeding just 4 of 7 times, he was successful at almost everything else, from lead blocking to the occasional Kevin-Mack-in-Tecmo-Bowl run where he would drag much of the opposing defense. It’s hard to say whether the Packers actually benefit from carrying a fullback at all, but if you are going to have one, you could do worse. Maybe someday the fans will actually yell HIS name.
Reserves: Christine Michael, Don Jackson, Knile Davis, James Starks, Joe Kerridge
Regular Season: 31 carries, 114 yards, 3.7 yards per carry, 2 catches, 11 yards, 5.5 yards per reception, 1 TD, 0 Fumbles
Playoffs: Playoffs: 16 carries, 58 yards, 3.6 yards per carry, 1 reception, 3 yards, 0 TDs, 0 Fumbles
Knile Davis sticks around the NFL due to freak athleticism, even though there is little evidence that he is actually good at football. You could say much of the same about Michael, who impressed everyone at the 2013 Combine, but cannot seem to stick on a team due to a lack of every skill other than running fast and hard. No one will ever accuse Michael of not running fast and hard, but it is wise to occasionally make sure you are not headed directly into someone’s back. Michael also tends to dance in the backfield even as the yellow first down line is just a few tantalizing feet away, and his work in the passing game is quite poor. Michael had his moments, and it’s easy to see why teams continue to be interested, but he is a boom-or-bust back who probably should have figured things out by now. He is a free agent, and you could do worse than bringing him back on a 1-year deal.
63 carries, 145 yards, 2.3 yards per carry, 19 receptions, 134 yards, 7.1 yards per reception, 2 touchdowns, 1 fumble.
Let us pour one out for James Darrell “Buck” Starks.
One of the heroes of the 2010 Super Bowl run, Starks was back on a 1-year deal and just didn’t have it any more. Clearly washed up from the first second he set foot on the field, the 30 year old was lost to a concussion after week 14 and has probably played his last down in the NFL. Starks was always a jack of all trades, master of none, working with limited athletic ability, and once he lost a step he basically became unplayable. Starks should go down as a local hero, and hopefully has no lingering symptoms from his concussion.
10 carries, 32 yards, 3.2 yards per carry, no receptions, no touchdowns, no fumbles.
The midseason practice squad promotion saw limited opportunities and didn’t do much with them. Jackson was tentative in the hole and lacks the athleticism to compensate for his indecision. Adding injury to insult, Jackson was lost for the season in week 9 to a knee injury. It was an unfortunate end Jackson’s big chance.
5 carries, 5 yards, 1 yard per carry, 2 receptions, 4 yards, 2 yards per carry, 1 kick return, 18 yards, 0 TDs, 0 fumbles.
A living cautionary tale against scouting on combine results alone, Knile Davis began and ended the season with the Kansas City Chiefs. In the middle he played two extremely unimpressive games for the Packers displaying an almost amazing lack of football instincts. Of his 5 carries, 1 gained 4 yards. The remaining 4 gained either 1 or 0 yards. Davis can run very fast in an open field, and that’s about it.
1 carry, 0 yards
The former Wolverine served as an occasional lead blocker and special teams cannon fodder. While Kerridge never stood out, the cannon fodder portion of his job should keep him employed, and when you’re a big ol’ fullback in Green Bay you are only one injury away from being a local legend.
Overall Grade: C+
You could easily argue that Montgomery’s importance to the offense combined with Lacy’s early success should drive this grade higher, but neither player was A-level individually, and the lack of production from Jackson, Davis, and especially Starks in the middle of the season brings everything crashing back down to Earth. Even Michael was only average at best, and while running back isn’t exactly a position of need for this team, there is opportunity for a player who can provide depth.