The Green Bay Packers entered the season with a seemingly tenuous running back situation, and it hasn't improved much since. Entering this past week's game with the Denver Broncos, their running game was ranked dead last in the NFL and even after a better output, it still remains in the basement. While part of the reason could be attributed to their over-emphasis of the passing game, it was still evident that, when given their chances, the Packers running backs weren't getting too far. The depth chart has been in a constant state of flux and this instability surely has not helped their quest for a solid ground attack.
The Mosh Pit in the Packers Backfield
The opening day starter was rookie running back Brandon Jackson, a second-round pick from the University of Nebraska. He was naturally appetizing to the Packers because of his scouting report, but also because their last stalwart halfback, current Houston Texans running back Ahman Green, also played his college ball at Nebraska. The Packers drafted him because his skills fit nicely with their zone blocking scheme. He is an elusive runner who is known for his great vision, and his ability to keep his body under control; two important skills needed for this kind of running game. His quickness is enough for him to exploit the emerging holes, he's tough enough to absorb the first hit and keep his legs moving, and slippery enough to make people miss in open space. His speed isn't top flight, but he has the ability to escape from the herd. His main weakness at the beginning of the season was his lack of experience, but the Packers still held lofty expectations for him. Currently, he sits third on the depth chart, mainly on the heels of his 2.6 yards-per-carry average. While some of his troubles could be explained by the Packers overall ineptitude in the running game, he still, so far, has not proven to be the elusive runner they envisioned.
Running back Vernand Morency entered the regular season as the lone veteran in the backfield after running back Noah Herron (knee) was lost for the year with a knee injury, and he was expected to provide some stability at the position. However, he has been slow to recover fully from a knee injury and has been spotty at best. Acquired last year in a swap with the Texans for running back Samkon Gado, he put up respectable numbers while showing some promise in a reserve role behind Green. Even so, it was a little peculiar that the team did not make any offseason moves to solidify their talent at this position, other than through the draft. This meant that, at the beginning of the preseason, the starting job was his to lose, and lose it he did after suffering the aforementioned knee injury. His current role is that of the third-down back and no upward depth chart movement is foreseeable unless the injury bug continues to attack this backfield. In spite of everything, Jackson would likely be elevated to starter if their No. 1 was hurt because Mornecy seems unable to shoulder the load with his knee apparently at less than 100 percent.
Running back DeShawn Wynn (neck), a seventh-round draft pick out of the University of Florida, showed promise in the early games and was even elevated to starter. Then he was lost for the season due to a nerve injury suffered during the team's last game. He was having, arguably, the best season of any of the paltry efforts handed in by the Packers' runners as he had found the end zone four times and was averaging more than four yards per carry.
The wild card of the bunch is running back Ryan Grant, the team's starter for the moment. A former practice squad member of the New York Giants, he was acquired right before the start of the 2007 season for a future draft pick. He made his case this past weekend as he handed in the best performance by a Packers running back this season with 104 yards on the ground. He has good size and ran extremely hard - like each potential tackler was trying to take the starting job away from him. His quickness was enough for him to exploit the running lanes the Broncos gave him, and for the time being, he breathed some life into the Packers stagnant running game.
The only viable option of the bunch is Grant. However, he is at best a No. 3 back. If he infuses some consistency into the offense, his status could be elevated. He should get the majority of the carries, as evidenced by him getting 22 of the Packers' 27 rushing attempts against the Broncos, so this is at least a little solace for owners. He is also not a bad player to have on the bench because of the promise he's shown.
Morency cannot be given any serious consideration because of his previous ineffectiveness. He has not had one noteworthy fantasy game and, considering he isn't even second in line for the starting job, owners should tread very lightly with him. He should get a point or two each game so if owners are desperate and just want to avoid a zero in the box score.
Currently, Jackson should not be seeing any fantasy playing time, as he doesn't seem to be getting any real world playing time either. If owners have an empty spot on the depth chart, he could be worth signing if only for the possibility of Grant getting hurt or proving to be a one-hit wonder.
It's very hard to advocate any Packers running backs beyond Grant for fantasy consideration given their general incompetence on the ground. While last game was encouraging, it also came against the league's last-ranked rushing defense, so don't get out the party hats yet. Their status takes on a "wait-and-see" approach as the reality of the situation should present itself as the season progresses. It will be very important for them to develop some semblance of a running game as no team has won a Super Bowl without at least a marginal attack. In that vein, owners can at least take comfort in the fact that the team will certainly be attempting to improve their efforts. Head coach Mike McCarthy did say that they spent their Bye week practicing with special emphasis on the rushing aspect of the offense. Teams have already started dropping into coverage and daring the Pack to beat them on the ground so hopefully this will help them kick start this suspect group.
About Alex Schaefer
Alex Schaefer has been a KFFL contributor since 2007.
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