Charles Dickins famously opened his “A Tale of Two Cities” by writing, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...”
For James Starks, 2015 was the best of the seasons and the worst of seasons.
Statistically, Starks had never been better — a bold statement, considering Starks led the NFL in yards per carry in 2013. He posted career-high totals almost across the board: 148 rushes, 601 yards, 43 receptions, 392 receiving yards, 9.1 yards per reception, 993 total yards and five total touchdowns.
Throughout the early part of his career, Starks’ play in the passing game limited his playing time, which is why he entered last season with just five regular-season starts in his first five seasons. However, in 2015, Starks was never better in the passing game. His 11.37 yards after the catch per reception led the entire NFL (regardless of position) by almost 2 yards, and his four receptions of 25-plus yards led all NFL running backs. Plus, while pass protection never has been his forte, at least he didn’t give up a sack last year, by our unofficial count.
With Eddie Lacy’s lackluster performance, Starks became the top dog in the backfield. Even though he started only four games, Starks’ 528 snaps were 58 more than Lacy played and more than he played in 2013 and 2014 combined.
However, Starks would have played even more if not for the one blemish on his season: fumbles. Starks fumbled five times — matching the total of his first five seasons combined and ranking third among running backs. Starks coughed it up twice in the Week 13 game at Detroit — his final game in the starting lineup — and again at Oakland in Week 15 and at Arizona in Week 16.
Starks, who turned 30 on Feb. 25, was rewarded with a two-year, $6 million contract — practically doubling the two-year deal he inked as a free agent in the 2014 offseason.
“I didn’t lose (any) speed. I didn’t lose (any) burst,” Starks said at the end of the season. “I know everybody has their stereotype of a certain age, this, that and the third. But I still feel young. Not a lot of wear and tear. I still feel good.”
Rather than wearing down, Starks seems to be getting stronger with age. After an injury-plagued career at the University of Buffalo, Starks embarked on an injury-plagued start to his career with the Packers. In his first three seasons, he played in a total of 22 regular-season games. Starks played in 13 games in 2014 and all 16 games in each of the past two seasons.
“I just don’t like being hurt. I like playing,” Starks said. “I like being in the action and being able to help my team. The last couple years to stay healthy, it meant a lot for me just because I worked hard for it. Sometimes things happen. You learn a lot and that’s what I think helped me most.”
Because he spent so much time on the sideline, Starks has 207 fewer career touches than Lacy despite being seven years older. If Starks enjoys more “best of times” and can eliminate the “worst of times,” there’s a chance he’ll be the last man standing in the backfield. With good-buddy Lacy entering his final season under contract, Starks could be positioned to be a first-time starter next year at the age of 31.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.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.