Running Game Has Been Running on Empty

Who is the Packers' leading returning rusher? And how do the Packers' top runners compare with the list of top active rushers? The answers to those questions explain why there are such huge expectations on their rookie running backs.

It's no wonder Eddie Lacy has been deemed the savior of the Green Bay Packers' hibernating running game.

Or, make that, it's no wonder Johnathan Franklin has been declared the savior of the long-slumbering running game.

Whether it's one or the other, the numbers tell the dreadful tale of the Packers' rushing attack, which boasts Aaron Rodgers as the leading career rusher and touchdown runner.

That fact alone is why so much is riding on the rookie running backs.

The Packers' leading returning running back, James Starks, has rushed for 934 yards in three seasons.

Alex Green has rushed for 475 yards in two seasons.

DuJuan Harris has rushed for 199 yards in two seasons.

Combined, that gives the Packers' three running backs a total of 1,608 rushing yards.

That "three-headed monster" would rank 45th on the NFL's list of active ball-carriers, according to Pro Football Reference.

A total of 23 teams have at least one player with that many rushing yards. The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots have three players with more rushing yards. Another seven teams have two players with more rushing yards.

Green Bay's leading returning rusher is Rodgers, with his 1,442 yards ranking 49th among active players. Former Packers Cedric Benson (ninth, 6,017 yards) and Ryan Grant (21st, 4,148 yards) dwarf the production of Green Bay's stable of runners.

Throw in fullback John Kuhn, who has 468 yards in seven seasons, and the Packers' returning backfield has rushed for 2,076 yards. Even that would rank 39th.

Only Miami (Daniel Thomas, 906 yards, two seasons), Pittsburgh (Jonathan Dwyer, 774 yards, three seasons), St. Louis (Daryl Richardson, 475 yards, one season) and the Giants (David Wilson, 358 yards, one season) have lower outputs from their returning rushing leader than Green Bay with Starks.

In terms of rushing touchdowns, Rodgers leads the way there, as well, with his 18 scores tied for 31st. Kuhn's 11 is tied for 48th. Starks (two), Harris (two) and Green (zero) have combined for four.

"There's competition at that spot, no doubt," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of the backfield. "You've got James and Alex and DuJuan from last year, who came in and did well, and now you have the two rookie (draft picks) in the mix, and the free agent (Angelo Pease) as well, who's a good player. So, it's a talented group, and it'll make our team better and that position better."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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