James Starks has been at times a good to very good running back for the Green Bay Packers over his career. He has also been at times an indecisive and ineffective runner who hesitates at the line and second-guesses which hole to go through or where to cut.
Starks has never shown an ability to carry the majority of the starting load, but has shown flashes of potential at various times in his career. Most recently, in 2013 Starks lead the NFL in yards per carry and showed an ability to break the big run consistently. Starks paired with Lacy very well that year and for a good portion of the year, looked like the better runner.
Last year however was a typical James Starks letdown year that he always seems to have once expectations for him are raised. The poor season also coincided with a breakout season for Eddie Lacy that saw him average 5.1 yards per carry and be tied for second in the NFL with eight touchdowns after week four.
As I wrote about a few months ago, Lacy seemed to get better and better with the more touches he got in a game last season and the more involved in the game he was. He also developed into a more complete back last year by making a big impact out of the backfield through the air as well as on the ground.
Those touches that Lacy demands to be the impact player he was last year means that he needs an effective backup that can work in a limited role. I hate the term “thunder and lightning” but that is exactly what the Packers need for this backfield.
If the Packers can replace most of Starks’ touches with Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery, I think the offense can and will hit an extra gear. Having the quick, big play potential from Cobb or Montgomery to sub-in for Lacy is great. Having the ability to have their running back(s) also be a dangerous weapon in the receiving game who gets clean releases because they aren’t on the line, but still be respected in the run game is even better.
There was a very noticeable difference when Cobb ran the ball last year and occasionally when Starks ran it compared to Lacy. The explosion through the hole of Cobb was staggering to watch after watching a game of runs by Lacy. He made quick decisions and cuts which got him through the line and to the second level of the defense so much quicker than Lacy can.
Going into the draft I really wanted the Packers to spend a third day pick on a running back that could mimic what Cobb showed last year. They did that, just in the third round not the third day, and just not in the way I was expecting with Ty Montgomery instead of a traditional running back.
Having Lacy be the bell cow running back who gets roughly 70 percent of the carries and splitting the other 30 percent between Cobb and Montgomery could be a lethal combination for the Packers. Cobb has proven himself as a capable NFL runner in small doses and Montgomery was scouted by many teams to be a running back at the next level.
Not to mention having Lacy with either Cobb or Montgomery in the backfield or a Cobb and Montgomery split backfield will be very easy to create potential mismatches with.
This kind of leaves James Starks out in the cold. I do not expect this to happen, especially a 30 percent share for Cobb and Montgomery, because of McCarthy’s affection for Starks and consistent claims that James deserves more touches every game. However I think that having Starks on the bench as a fill in for when Lacy suffers an inevitable injury that causes him to miss a game or two serves an important purpose for this team. Cobb and Montgomery cannot care the lion’s share of carries.
Having dual hybrid wide receiver-running backs can be the next big evolution for the NFL and I truly believe it can work well. Especially with a powerful, bruising running back like Lacy who needs a majority share of the rushes anyway. Cobb with his career 9.3 yards per carry and Montgomery with his 8.6 yards per carry average over his collegiate career are the men to do it.
This may just be an idea I have been kicking around in my head for a couple weeks that can’t work. At the very least I think it is worth the shot and a strategy that can pay big dividens. Especially with the new potential emphasis on the two point conversion this year. The carries may have to end up a 70/10/10/10 spilt between Lacy, Starks, Cobb, and Montgomery but that doesn’t change the basic philosophy and I would still like to see Cobb and Montgomery get more snaps from the backfield than Starks.——————
Mike Reuter lives in the Twin Cities and is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas. He is a mobile tech enthusiast, a 19 year Gopher Football season ticket holder and a huge Packers fan. Mike is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @uofmike.