This will be Ted Thompson’s 13th draft running the Green Bay Packers. Dusting off a series we wrote in 2015, we look back on his previous 12 drafts and try to find trends that might be worth remembering as we look ahead to this year’s draft. We continue this series with the running backs.
RUNNING BACKS (7)
2007, 2nd round — Brandon Jackson, Nebraska (5-9 7/8, 210; 4.55 in the 40; 4.14 in short shuttle; hand size not available): Jackson was given a chance to start as a rookie and in 2010, when Ryan Grant went down in the season opener. He failed to be much more than a solid third-down back, though. In four seasons with the Packers, he rushed for 1,383 yards and added 844 yards on 110 catches. He played two games for Cleveland in 2011 and 2012. Grade: D.
2007, 7th round — DeShawn Wynn, Florida (5-10 3/8, 232; 4.55 40; 4.37 shuttle; 9 hands): Wynn had a 38-yard touchdown run against the Giants in 2007 and a 73-yard touchdown against the Lions in 2008. Those, however, represent about one-third of his career total of 332 rushing yards put together over 23 games in four seasons. Grade: F.
2010, 6th round — James Starks, Buffalo (6-2 1/8, 218; 4.50 40; 4.23 shuttle; 9 1/2 hands): Starks emerged in the playoffs to help power the Packers to a championship as a rookie, led the NFL with 5.5 yards per carry in 2013 and led the NFL with 11.4 yards after the catch per catch in 2015. While durability concerns and issues in the passing game prevented him from being the team’s workhorse, he rushed for 2,506 yards and added 1,017 more through the air in seven seasons. He was released after a dismal 2016 and is out of the league. Grade: B-minus.
2011, 3rd round — Alex Green, Hawaii (6-0, 225; 4.55 40; 4.15 shuttle; 9 1/8 hands): Green tore his ACL as a rookie and managed just 464 yards (3.4 per carry) when given a featured role in 2012. He played in 13 games for the Jets in 2013 and finished a disappointing 29-game career with only 510 rushing yards and no touchdowns. Grade: F.
2013, 2nd round — Eddie Lacy, Alabama (5-11, 231; 4.64 40; no shuttle; 9 1/2 hands): The hard-charging Lacy rumbled for 2,317 rushing yards, 3,001 total yards and 24 total touchdowns in his first two seasons. He lost a battle with the bulge in 2015, then suffered a season-ending ankle injury after an impressive five-game start to 2016. In the second round of the 2013 draft, Green Bay moved from No. 55 to No. 61. At No. 58, Denver took Wisconsin legend Montee Ball, Lacy went at No. 61 and Seattle took Christine Michael at No. 62. The stats: Lacy (now with Seattle) has 3,435 rushing yards, 4,345 total yards and 229 total touchdowns through four seasons. Michael (now with Green Bay) has 1,080 rushing yards, 1,215 total yards and eight total touchdowns through four seasons. Ball was a bust, with 731 rushing yards, 938 total yards and five total touchdowns in two years. Oh, and by trading back in the second round, Thompson was able to get David Bakhtiari in the fourth. Grade: B-plus.
2013, 4th round — Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (5-10, 205; 4.49 40; 4.31 shuttle; 9 3/8 hands): Franklin’s career ended with a neck injury sustained vs. Minnesota as a rookie. He rushed for 107 yards, with 103 coming vs. Cincinnati in his only extensive action. Grade: Incomplete.
2015, 3rd grade — Ty Montgomery, Stanford (5-11 7/8, 221; 4.55 40; 4.21 shuttle; 10 1/8 hands): Montgomery became a full-time running back at midseason and led the team with 471 rushing yards and a glittering 5.9-yard average. He led the NFL by averaging 5.1 yards after contact — the highest figure for a running back since Pro Football Focus started charting that stat in 2006. Plus, he caught 44 passes for 348 yards. He showed ample promise as a running back, though this is worth noting: After rushing for 162 yards against Chicago, Montgomery rushed for 158 in the next five games combined (including playoffs). Can Montgomery carry the load after getting more than 11 carries just once? Can he pass protect? Those answers will determine his final grade. But for now ... Grade: B-minus.
2007, 6th round — Korey Hall, Boise State (6-1 1/8, 230; 4.69 40; 4.22 shuttle; hand size not available until 2009): Hall started 26 games and caught 21 passes in four seasons for the Packers before spending 2011 with the Saints. Grade: C.
2009, 5th round — Quinn Johnson, LSU (6-0 3/4, 246; 4.83 40; no shuttle; 10 3/8 hands): Johnson was supposed to be the big, powerhouse, bruising lead blocker but it never worked out. He struggled to find moving targets as a blocker and couldn’t catch a cold. He started four games for the Packers in two seasons and nine games for the Titans the next three seasons. Grade: F.
2015, 6th round — Aaron Ripkowski, Oklahoma (6-1 3/8, 238; 4.70 40; 4.33 shuttle; hand size not available): Ripkowski looks like the real deal. He can run, catch and block. Handed the starting job in 2016, Ripkowski played in all 16 games and rushed for 150 yards (4.4 average), caught nine passes (5.1 average) and scored three touchdowns. Grade: B-minus.
Overall grade: OK, so maybe Lacy got stuck in a buffet. But he was a tremendous runner who never saw a tackler he didn’t think he could run through, jump over or spin around. He took a lot of punishment but had missed only two games in three-plus seasons until the ankle put the brakes on last season.
The other marquee picks were Jackson and Green. Jackson was the sixth of 22 backs taken in 2007 — a class headed by first-rounders Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. Only Peterson, Lynch, Ahmad Bradshaw (seventh round; 4,928 rushing yards) Michael Bush (fourth round; 3,250) and Jason Snelling (seventh round; 1,420) outrushed Jackson. Green was the eighth of 29 backs taken in 2011. Of those taken after Green, only three rushed for more than 1,200 yards, led by Bilal Powell (fourth round; 2,331 yards). Grade: C-plus.
What it means (if anything) for 2017: The preference has been for big backs because big backs can deal with the bad-weather/bad-field games typical in December. So how do you explain the selections of Jackson and Franklin? In 2007, coach Mike McCarthy had 222-pound Ryan Grant to carry the load. In 2013, Thompson had just drafted Lacy.
At 216 pounds, Montgomery hasn’t shown he can be that between-the-tackles, carry-the-load runner. And given his versatile skill-set, why would you want to use him in that kind of role, anyway? The Packers almost certainly will draft a running back, and that back more likely than not will be one capable of doling out some punishment.
Who are names to remember in that big-back mold? In the first round, that would be Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon (6-1, 228), an explosive, do-it-all running back with one enormous off-the-field incident. In the third or fourth round, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (5-11, 233) and Texas’ D’Onta Foreman (6-0, 233) fit the bill. Foreman is the better athlete but had as many fumbles as catches last year. That’s not good. Wyoming’s Brian Hill (6-1, 219), Pittsburgh’s James Conner (6-1, 233) and North Carolina’s Elijah Hood (6-0, 232) are names to remember early in Day 3, with Wisconsin’s Corey Clement (5-10, 220), Michigan’s De’Veon Smith (5-11, 223) and Oklahoma State’s Chris Carson (6-10, 218) at the end of the draft. Of those nine, only Mixon, Conner and Hood had 20-plus catches in 2016. Lacy, for comparison, had 22 during his final season at Alabama.
There are thee other measurables to keep in mind. One is hand size. We have that data for six of Thompson’s seven picks. Those six all have hands of at least 9 inches. The second is the 20-yard shuttle, a key test that displays change-of-direction agility. Of the running backs (not fullbacks) who were did the shuttle at this year’s Combine, the average time was 4.36 seconds. All of the Packers’ picks beat that time with the exception of Wynn (4.37) and Lacy (did not perform). Jackson, Starks, Green, Franklin and Montgomery averaged 4.21, so they were considerably faster than the average. The 40-yard dash might thin the crop, too. They all ran in 4.55 or faster, with Lacy (4.64) being the exception.
What about the top prospects who potentially could get within range for Green Bay in the first round? Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (5-10 3/8, 210; 4.49) barely has the hand size (9 1/4 inches) and was horrible in the shuttle (4.53). He didn't play like a player with poor change-of-direction skill but he did fumble too often (six). Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (5-11 1/4, 202; 4.48) has small hands (9 inches) but crushed the shuttle (4.22). Mixon, of course, wasn’t allowed to attend the Combine. At Oklahoma’s pro day, he had a 4.43 in the 40 and a 4.25 in the shuttle. He measured 6-foot 5/8 and had 10 1/4-inch hands.
Going with size and shuttles, who might be coveted by Thompson? That’s an in-progress list, since so many of the top prospects didn’t run the shuttle at the Combine and pro day results aren’t available for some players at NFL Draft Scout. Here are the 11 players listed in this story; McCaffrey, 4.22; Cook, 4.53; Mixon, 4.25; Perine, 4.37; Foreman (4.26); Hill, 4.32; Conner (4.31); Hood (DNP); Clement (4.28); Smith, 4.56; Carson, 4.28.
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.