Grading the Packers’ Running Backs on a Salary Cap Curve

Eddie Lacy was called out by coach Mike McCarthy at the end of the season, but how does his season stack up in our context?

Player grades are a tried-and-true staple at the end of every season. We put our usual spin on them by grading the players on a salary-cap curve.

Running backs

Eddie Lacy: Any way you look at it, Lacy’s third season in the league was a tremendous disappointment. After rushing for more than 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons to give him a total of 2,317 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns, Lacy slumped to 758 yards and three touchdowns this season. His four fumbles tied his two-year total. Lacy’s biggest run might have been the most illustrative run, as he blew through the Cardinals’ defense for 61 yards but looked like he was running through mud for the final 30 yards. “He has to get it done (in the offseason) because he cannot play at the weight that he played at this year,” coach Mike McCarthy said. Still, his cap charge of $925,000 ranked 45th among running backs. That’s not a bad bargain for a player who ranked 20th in attempts, 20th in yards and 31st in average. Thus, he gets a grade better than you might expect — and a grade probably higher than the one McCarthy would provide. Grade: C-plus.

James Starks: Starks, whose cap charge of $1.84 million ranked 28th among running backs, set career highs in rushing yards (601), receiving yards (392), total yards (993), receptions (43) and total touchdowns (five). He’s never been so good in the passing game. His 11.37 yards after the catch per reception led the entire NFL (regardless of position) by almost 2 yards. Plus, by our unofficial count, he didn’t allow a sack. However, his five fumbles cut into his playing time. That total matched Starks’ total from his first five seasons and ranked third among running backs. He’ll turn 30 on Feb. 25. Between age and fumbles, it’s hard to see him getting much run in free agency. Grade: C.

John Crockett: Crockett, who received a $5,000 signing bonus as an undrafted rookie, was promoted from the practice squad for the final five regular-season games. He played in two games, rushing five times for 22 yards at Detroit and four times for minus-1 yard at Arizona. He’s got some burst but, obviously, nothing is guaranteed for 2016. Grade: Incomplete.

Fullbacks

John Kuhn: Because he’s a veteran, Kuhn’s $875,000 base salary turned into a cap charge of just $635,000, which ranked 11th among fullbacks. The 33-year-old remains a tremendous value, regardless of salary-cap discounts. As the season progressed, Kuhn played more and more. He averaged about 37 snaps per game over the final six games (including playoffs) vs. about 12 snaps over the first 12 games. While he’s never been a hammer in the run game, he’s a trusted pass protector — not to mention his nose for the goal line/first-down marker. Plus, he’s a revered leader. Kuhn, who will turn 34 on Sept. 9, is headed to free agency for the third consecutive offseason. Grade: B-minus.

Aaron Ripkowski: Ripkowski, the first of the Packers’ three sixth-round draft picks, had a cap charge of about $462,000 while pocketing a $106,396 signing bonus. He played only 19 snaps on offense. Ripkowski touched the ball only once — a 19-yard reception at Carolina. He did rank fourth on the team with nine tackles on special teams. Throughout training camp and the preseason, he showed the potential to be a powerful blocker in the run game. The question is, are the Packers ready to hand him the job or will he serve another year as an apprentice to Kuhn? Grade: D-plus.

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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