Production Makes Starks Valued Commodity

The Packers would like to retain running back James Starks, who ranked among the league leaders in 2013.

The Green Bay Packers signed their one must-sign free agent, cornerback Sam Shields.

Now what?

Jermichael Finley, B.J. Raji and Evan Dietrich-Smith are young starters who are about to hit the free-agent market. Running back James Starks isn't a starter but he's one of the more intriguing players on the team's lengthy list.

The Packers want to keep Starks but, not surprisingly, there is considerable interest around the league, according to a league source.

Starks, a sixth-round pick in 2010, emerged down the stretch to help power the Packers to a Super Bowl championship as a rookie. After playing in only 19 of a possible 32 regular-season games in 2011 and 2012, the Packers essentially gave up on Starks' ability to be a starter by drafting Eddie Lacy in the second round of last year's draft.

Lacy was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year but Starks had a big-time season after entering training camp as something of a long shot to make the roster behind Lacy, DuJuan Harris and 2011 third-round pick Alex Green.

Instead, Harris needed season-ending knee surgery and Starks completely outplayed Green in training camp. Serving as the team's No. 2 back, Starks stayed healthy for 13 games. While he carried just 89 times behind workhorse Lacy, Starks rushed for 493 yards and three touchdowns.

"I thought James had his best year," said Alex Van Pelt, who served as the Packers' running backs coach the last two seasons. "I was very impressed with his running style. He hit the hole hard and fast. Where Eddie is a little bigger, slower going through the hole, James was a nice change-up because he was through the hole and into the second level before guys had time to react. I think that was crucial to his success this year. The durability, he missed some games early in the season, but he fought through that and came back earlier than expected. I was really proud of the way he played."

Starks' production becomes evident when looking inside the numbers.

— His 5.54 yards per carry led the league among runners with at least 80 attempts. It was the best rate by a Packers runner since Eddie Lee Ivery averaged 5.58 in 1984. Only one other running back (Billy Grimes, 5.71 in 1950) topped Starks' average in franchise history.

— Despite the limited opportunities, Starks tied for second in the league with three touchdown runs of 20-plus yards.

— According to ProFootballFocus.com, Starks tied Adrian Peterson for third in the league with 3.0 yards after contact per carry.

— Starks ranked second in the league in ProFootballFocus.com's "Elusive Rating," which takes into account yards after contact and missed tackles.

The Packers probably feel good about the trio of Lacy, Harris and Johnathan Franklin, and Starks probably feels good about his chances of landing a bigger role (and bigger money) elsewhere. Still, with Sam Shields' 2014 cap number being just $5.625 million, the Packers have plenty of financial resources. Given Lacy's running style, Starks certainly would be a quality insurance policy.


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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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