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After spending yesterday breaking down the quarterbacks, today we look behind them in the offensive alignment to discuss the players who will be receiving handoffs from them. Yes, it's running back day here at Acme Packing Company, and though there are a few intriguing new faces at the position, the top of the depth chart is likely to be filled with established names and faces that we already know well.
Here is a detailed look at those running backs who return to the team from the 2014 roster.
H/W: 5'11", 230 pounds
NFL Seasons: 2
2014 Stats: 246 carries, 1,139 yards (4.6 average), 9 touchdowns; 42 receptions, 427 yards (10.2 average), 4 touchdowns
Career Stats: 530 carries, 2,317 yards (4.4 average), 20 touchdowns; 77 receptions, 684 yards (8.9 average), 4 touchdowns
Contract: Third year of four-year rookie contract, total value $3.4 million; 2015 cap hit of $925,203
Want to hear something interesting about Eddie Lacy, the bruising, powerful, Pro Bowl starting halfback for the Green Bay Packers? He's secretly better in the passing game than in the running game, which is very important given the offense he plays in. What's more, both stats and scouts agree on this point. By DVOA, Lacy was the 8th-best running back in the NFL last year in terms of running, but in the passing game he was 4th. Pro Football Focus ranks Lacy 7th in rushing alone with a solid +7.8, but he's second to only Le'Veon Bell with a +8.4 in the passing game.
Perhaps most important to to the health of the franchise, he was also elite in pass protection and watching him pick up blocks is almost as fun as watching him bulldoze members of the opposing secondary. The only real knock on Lacy is his ability to stay healthy, but that's simply an occupational hazard of the position.You won't find a more well-rounded back in football. Lacy is easily one of the five best backs in the league.
H/W: 6'2", 218 pounds
NFL Seasons: 5
2014 Stats: 85 carries, 333 yards (3.9 average), 2 touchdowns; 18 receptions, 140 yards (7.8 average)
Career Stats: 407 carries, 1,760 yards (4.3 average), 7 touchdowns; 63 receptions, 491 yards (7.8 average), 1 touchdown
Contract: second year of two-year deal worth $3.25 million; 2015 cap hit of $1,837,500
Starks has been, in many ways the ideal backup running back. He's not anywhere near the talent of Lacy, but he is a well-rounded back lacking obvious weaknesses, like Lacy. Pro Football Focus was not a fan of his effort last year, but in terms of his production it's hard to see any noticeable decline. His YPC was down a bit, but he actually showed some chops as a receiver and was perfectly fine in pass protection. He can play every down and in every package if called upon to do so, and that's really all you're looking for from your second string.
Starks is 29 and was never a special athlete, so it would not be surprising to see the end come quickly for him, perhaps as soon as this year, but he will almost certainly begin the season as the immediate backup to Lacy.
H/W: 5'11", 220 pounds
NFL Seasons: 1
2014 Stats: None
Contract: Signed through 2016; 2015 cap hit of $435,000
Everything went badly for Rajion Neal his rookie year. Already facing an uphill battle as an undrafted rookie, he injured a knee in preseason and was placed on IR. This can be death to an NFL running back, but Neal did enough in his short opportunity to impress the right people and stick with the organization, as he was added to the practice squad late in 2014 and is a favorite to win a roster spot this season.
He's an intriguing talent. In his sophomore season at Tennessee, he briefly saw time at wide receiver, showed occasional explosiveness as a running back, and while he didn't run at the combine, his 101 Pro Day Speed Score pegs him as something like an average talent, which is nothing to sneeze at. His soft hands should get him reps in 3rd down situations, and if James Starks sees any type of decline, he's the kind of player who could work himself into a bigger role as the season goes on.
H/W: 6'0", 250 pounds
NFL Seasons: 9
2014 Stats: 24 carries, 85 yards (3.5 average), one touchdown; 4 receptions, 23 yards (5.8 average)
Career Stats: 189 carries, 591 yards (3.1 average), 13 touchdowns; 76 receptions, 516 yards (6.8 average), 8 touchdowns
Contract: one-year, $920,000 contract; 2015 cap hit of $635,000
If John Kuhn was named Bert Crampis it's entirely possible he would have been cut years ago. The "ooooooooo" in his name is worth more as an in-stadium rallying point than 10,000 G-Force promotions combined. Unfortunately, Kuhn's ascension to "blue-collar favorite with a fun name" has coincided with an inversely proportional decline in his usefulness as a player.
Kuhn has occasionally been valuable in the past as a receiver and in pass protection, and had a good season leading Eddie Lacy through holes in 2014, but at this point in his career he's starting to show deficiencies. He's being asked to block less and less in pass pro due to a decline in receiving skills, a decline in blocking skills, and the sublime play of Eddie Lacy. He's always been a disaster as a short-yardage back as Mike McCarthy continues to embrace the outdated the idea that big, slow RBs are good in such situations, and he's not getting any better. At this point he's a blocking fullback in an offense that rarely needs one, and a glue guy and fan favorite. At some point, that's simply not good enough anymore. The Packers drafted Aaron Ripkowski in the 6th round this year; his ability to play special teams should get him on the roster, and his youth and superior talent will probably see Kuhn off of it sooner rather than later.
Paul Noonan | acmepackingcompany.com | July 7, 2015