Lambeau Leap of Faith

March 22, 2010 1:51 AM

Packers Needs Part IV: Running Back

Previously in this series, the Packers needs for offensive tackle, outside linebacker, and cornerback were covered. It was suggested that the team may use its first pick in the draft for any of the positions, given there is an age issue with the personnel currently capable of handling those duties adequately.

This is not the case at the Packers fourth position of need, running back.

Indeed, the team may well be able to make no significant changes at this position and be solid. In addition, they may well be able to get a good running back as late as the second day. The following are some notable backs taken in the third round or later this decade alone:

  • 2009: Shonn Greene (third round, New York Jets) had over 500 yards rushing in his rookie season
  • 2008: Steve Slaton (third round, Houston Texans) had a 1200-yard rookie season
  • 2007: Michael Bush (fourth round, Oakland Raiders) has rushed for over 500 yards in a season
  • 2006: Leon Washington (fourth round, New York Jets) has rushed for over 500 yards and is a special teams standout
  • 2005: Pro Bowl backs Frank Gore (third round, San Francisco Forty-Niners) and Brandon Jacobs (fourth round, New York Giants)
  • 2004: Pro Bowl back Michael Turner (fifth round, San Diego Chargers)
  • 2003: Justin Fargas (third round, Oakland Raiders) has rushed for 1000 yards
  • 2002: Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook (fourth round, Philadelphia Eagles)
  • 2001: Rudi Johnson (fourth round, Cincinnati Bengals), another 1000-yard back
  • 2000: Mike Anderson (sixth round, Denver Broncos) also gained 1000 yards

Considering this, the fact that the Packers even need a running back is disconcerting. The team spent a second-round pick on Brandon Jackson in 2007 that has failed to pay much in the way of dividends, even though running back is the easiest position to make the transition from college to pros.

After getting three starts his rookie season, Jackson was unseated by Ryan Grant, who gained more rushing yards than anyone but Ladanian Tomlinson over the final nine games of the season (929). With Grant battling his way to 1200 yards through a hamstring injury in 2008, it looked like Jackson might be ready to challenge Grant for playing time, getting 248 yards on 45 carries (5.5 average) and 185 yards on 30 catches (6.2 average).

However, he took a definite step back in 2009, getting only 111 yards on 37 carries (3.0 average) and 21 catches for 187 yards (8.9 average). While he did get three touchdowns (one receiving), all three came in a blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks in which all three running backs scored; take away that game, and he was under three yards per carry.

Even in a photo on Flickr under "Brandon Jackson", he is
 second to Ryan Grant
Even in a photo on Flickr under "Brandon Jackson", he is second to Ryan Grant

Green Bay released Ahman Green and DeShawn Wynn, leaving Grant and Jackson as the only backs of consequence on the roster. Jackson is a more than adequate third-down back--a capable runner, solid blocker, and good receiver--but after three seasons, he has not shown he can be counted on for more.

There are a number of players in the draft who can help the Packers, but if they do not spend their first pick on one of the three major positions of need, it will be a poor decision. Even the fourth through sixth-rated backs in the draft who are likely to be Day One picks--Jonathan Dwyer of Georgia Tech, Montario Hardesty of Tennessee, and my favourite, Toby Gerhart of Stanford--would not help the team as much as drafting another player one in the three aforementioned positions.

The Packers can select a running back in Day Two and hope he is better than Jackson, but this team is too close to count on that when there are other players out there. Most of the free agents signing so far--even those who are clearly on the downside of their careers, are out of the Packers price range; in my companion piece, I talked about who would be too high-priced.

Thus, this list will focus on the players who might actually land in Green Bay. Here are my top four choices:

  1. Justin Fargas (2009: 129 carries, 491 yards, 17 catches, 113 yards, three total TDs)--Fargas has a 1000-yard season in 2007 and in a six-year career with a bad team that had no real passing game to balance with, he has over 3000 yards and a 4.1-yard per carry average, with 10 TDs and four fumbles lost.
  2. Mike Bell (2009: 172 carries, 654 yards, four catches, 12 yards, five total TDs and two fumbles lost)--Bell has two seasons of over 600 yards in four years in the league, has run behind the zone blocking scheme, and offers the power to compliment Grant's speed. However, he obviously leaves much to be desired as a receiver out of the backfield.
  3. Jerious Norwood (2009: 76 carries, 252 yards, 0 TDs, 19 catches, 186 yards, 1 total TD, one fumble lost)--Norwood may be perceived as damaged goods coming off of an injury, but he produced 1625 total yards in his first two years. He is a dual threat with the capability of breaking big plays, and thanks to his backup role, does not have a lot of mileage on him.

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