Last spring, the Fantasy Football backfield to watch was in Dallas.
This spring, it’s in Green Bay.
James Starks was let go. Eddie Lacy won’t be under contract as of March 1 and neither will Christine Michael.
There’s plenty of room on the roster for more running backs, including a starter who could serve as the main rusher.
Why we should care
The Packers aren’t known as a run-friendly offense because, hello, Aaron Rodgers. He’s pretty good. The threat of Rodgers shredding defenses through the air forces defenses to play against the pass first and against the run second. That’s why Packers running backs typically don’t run into a ton of defenders play after play. Plus, the Packers’ offensive line is a quality group.
Obviously last year was a bad one for the Packers’ run game. That’s why backs (including Ty Montgomery) generally didn’t have a lot of carries from game to game, but did come up larger-than-usual as pass-catchers.
Nonetheless, 2016 wasn’t typical of how the team disperses the work for their rushers. I mean, it can’t be — no running back had more than 77 carries.
Last season was an anomaly. See for yourself …
Expect the Packers to:
- Address the running back position.
- Aim for more carries from their running backs.
And you should expect this not just because that’s the natural way things progress in football, but because we saw the Packers go through this after 2012. That’s when their run game failed them. This should easily be a case of history repeating.
Who’s there now?
At this time, the Packers’ legitimate options at running back are Montgomery, who will transition fully to the position, fullback-turned-oh-crap-we-need-a-running-back Aaron Ripkowski and undrafted rookie Don Jackson, who could follow Starks, Lacy and Michael out the door.
Can Montgomery handle the rigors of playing like a traditional running back for 16 games? Of his 102 carries — including the postseason — 73 went between the tackles, so it’s not like the Packers shied away from using him there.
But the team gave him more than 11 carries in a game just once, a decision that may or may not have been justified when he left their playoff game at Atlanta with a rib injury.
The move to running back is official for Montgomery, and it’s a position he played in high school. He’s a long way from being the Packers’ most-used running back, but he’s got a shot to get there. If you’re a Montgomery fan, you don’t want the Packers to add anybody this offseason.
‘Rip’ was admirable as a desperation fill-in for the Pack, but a move from fullback to running back doesn’t seem likely. Not even with a 4.4-yard rushing average. Jackson was pressed into action after all of the Packers’ injuries and was off the field nearly as quickly after hurting his hand and then his knee. It would be stunning if either player had even five touches per game.
Who could they sign?
The Packers rarely spend money in free agency, so don’t expect them to start dedicating cap space to players from other teams. But if they’re going to improve their running group, this is the way to do it without spending a draft pick.
Yes, they could bring back Lacy. You might despise such a move because Lacy’s been a big bust (emphasis on the word big), but he knows the offense, the coaches, the players and the expectations. And he’d probably be a big, fat bargain for the Packers considering how badly he’s botched his last two seasons. He makes sense for a Green Bay reunion, even if it causes issues in Fantasy Football.
Technically, Martin isn’t scheduled to be a free agent, but he very well might be considering how his season ended with a suspension in Tampa Bay. And, like Lacy, he would come with a discount since he has to prove himself all over again, especially since he has three games of a suspension left to serve. Martin’s versatility could be especially attractive to the Packers — they’d just have to believe his bad days on and off the field are behind him.
Darren McFadden, Tim Hightower, Benny Cunningham
These aren’t pricey free agent running backs, but they’d all be able to work in a complementary role to Montgomery or fill in as a lead back in the event of an injury. All three have experience working in the West Coast offense. Cunningham specifically has a tie-in to Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans.
Who could they draft?
Remember, the last time the Packers knew they had to reload at running back (2012) they drafted Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. But both were taken after the first round.
The consensus Top 2 running backs in the NFL Draft, both Cook and Fournette would require the Packers trading way up in Round 1. It seems extremely unlikely that they would mortgage future draft picks to improve their running back spot.
Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, D’Onta Foreman
McCaffery doesn’t quite have the bulk to be a workhorse running back, though he proved in two years at Stanford that he can still handle lots of touches. He’s elusive but not powerful, which could make him a very good complementary back and kick returner.
Kamara has speed, balance and a knack for picking up yardage that isn’t blocked for him. He’s not perfect but could get coached up to provide plenty of work in the Packers offense. Foreman looks like a power runner but probably needs to become more aggressive. He also doesn’t have that blazing speed people tend to drool over. All of these backs could land in Round 2 and are more likely to head to Green Bay than Cook and Fournette.
We can dream all day about the Packers getting wild and landing Cook or Fournette (both would be Top 20 picks in Fantasy redrafts as members of the Packers), but with Montgomery clearly in the fold for 2017, don’t bet on the Packers making a big splash.
If Montgomery is the main guy in the Packers offense and truly looks the part in training camp, we’re looking at a candidate for more than 1,000 total yards and six scores. Sounds kind of silly considering we’re talking about a former receiver, but remember, he’s a running back-turned-receiver-turned-running back. Montgomery would easily be a Top 50 pick in all formats.
If he is not the main guy and is instead pegged to a role similar to what he had in 2016, then he’d be more of a PPR asset and flex option in standard formats. In that case he’d be expected for maybe 800 total yards and a handful of touchdowns. Running backs like that don’t get picked until Round 7 at the earliest.
There’s rich potential for anyone who becomes the Packers’ main running back. Hopefully someone gets the opportunity so Fantasy owners can capitalize.