Grading the Packers: Running backs, fullbacks

Grant's emergence all the difference with rushing attack

Thanks to Ryan Grant, the Green Bay Packers' rushing attack went from zero to 65 in the first half of the Monday Night Football battle against the Denver Broncos in Week 8. Grant, whom the Packers obtained in an early September trade with the New York Giants, came off the bench and helped add another dimension to the offense that was agonizingly absent in the first half of the season.

Since Oct. 29, Grant has never looked back and the team's rushing attack showed consistent improvement. The Packers ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing early on in 2007, but finished 21st overall in the league. Grant was the second leading rusher in the league in the final eight weeks of the season next to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, and fell 44 yards shy of 1,000 in the regular season.

Though the Packers were shut down by the New York Giants on the ground in the NFC Championship Game and inexplicably went away from the run in the second half, the future is bright for the young backfield. The Packers top three running backs, and two on injured reserve, will be with the team this offseason. The Packers fullback tandem of Korey Hall and John Kuhn will be back, along with Ryan Powdrell, who was placed on injured reserve prior to the regular season.

"I think Edgar (Bennett, running backs coach) does a great job with the running backs," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. "I look for them to be more consistent, have the opportunity to go through an offseason and develop and be a year better. I thought we made tremendous progress and I actually had a meeting with the first- and second-year players after the team meeting and talked about how the progress of the younger players made from last year to this year and the impact that it played on our success this year as a football team and expect the same from this new rookie class."

The Packers averaged 99.8 yards per game in the regular season, which is 4.1 yards per game less than they did in 2006 behind Ahman Green. But considering the Packers were averaging 65.7 yards per game rushing through Week 6, there is plenty of reason for optimism.

"It was a young group that lacked experience, and almost every single one of them has been given some level of experience, just through the opportunities that they had this year," McCarthy said. "DeShawn Wynn played a lot of football for us early in the year, Brandon Jackson, my goodness, he took every snap in training camp and then started playing special teams in the middle of the year. So I look for Brandon Jackson to be a core special teams player, probably one of our better players next year, and he never played on special teams until halfway through the season. So there's a lot that can come out of that group."

Here are the individual grades for the team's running backs and fullbacks:

Ryan Grant: He had to wait his turn, but when DeShawn Wynn was drilled near the Packers' goal line during a Monday night game in Denver on Oct. 29 and sustained what amounted to be a season-ending shoulder injury, Grant stepped in and never looked back.

Grant finished the regular season with 956 yards rushing for a healthy 5.1 per carry average. He had five 100-yard games, then rambled for a career-high and team postseason record 201 yards and three touchdowns in Green Bay's NFC Divisional playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

For a sixth round draft pick in the upcoming April NFL draft, the Packers got a steal from the Giants, though, the Giants had the last laugh in shutting down Grant in the NFC Championship Game. Grant was held to 13 carries for 29 yards on that icy cold Jan. 20 night as the Packers fell short of advancing to Super Bowl XLII.

In the big picture, Grant answered Green Bay's big question throughout the 2007 offseason and early in the season of who will replace Green. After Vernand Morency, Jackson and DeShawn Wynn failed to seize the opportunity, Grant made the most of his shot and is the man heading into the 2008 season, and possibly longer.

Grant was far from perfect. His fumble late in the game against the Vikings in Week 4 nearly allowed Minnesota to tie the game. He also fumbled the ball away twice on Green Bay's first two possessions in the playoff against Seattle.
Grade: B+

Brandon Jackson: The rookie second round pick from Nebraska began the season as the starter by default. With Morency nursing a knee injury through most of training camp, Jackson was thrust into the starting role, and it may have been too much for him to handle.

Jackson started the team's first three games before sustaining a shin injury, which caused him to miss the next four games. At the time he was averaging just 2.6 yards per carry and did not seem very comfortable in the offense. Jackson finished the season strong, however, rushing for 113 yards on 20 carries against the Detroit Lions in the season finale. He had 267 yards on 75 carries for the regular season, raising his average per carry to 3.6 yards.

Jackson impressed McCarthy and other coaches with his play on special teams in the second half of the year. He had a team-high four special teams tackles against the Seahawks in the Divisional playoff.

Jackson can best contribute as a third-down back. His durability is questionable, so he may never push Grant for the starting position. He needs to improve his blocking and adapt better to the zone blocking scheme.
Grade: C-

Vernand Morency: The third-year pro was expected to be the opening day starter for the Packers, but a knee injury that he sustained on the first day of training camp prohibited him from competing for the job. When Morency returned, he appeared indecisive and went down easy in the open field. He simply was not the same back who averaged 4.5 yards a carry in 2006 behind Ahman Green.

Morency rushed for 108 yards on 29 attempts (3.7 per carry) in 13 games in 2007. He was fifth on the team in receiving with 30 catches for 199 yards. He did not score a touchdown rushing or receiving.

The knee injury early in the year seemed to affect Morency well into the season. He is one of the team's two restricted free agents. Look for the Packers to re-sign him and give him a chance to compete as a third-down back against Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and Noah Herron in the 2008 training camp.
Grade: C-

DeShawn Wynn: The rookie seventh round pick was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 30, just a few weeks after he rushed for an eye-opening 78 yards on 13 carries against the Chicago Bears at warm and humid Lambeau Field. Wynn sustained leg cramps early in that game, and he never was the same after.

Wynn's conditioning has been questionable as well as his desire. After gaining 37 yards on 13 carries in a starting role against Washington Oct. 14, Wynn injured his shoulder on his only carry of the game against Denver Oct. 29 and never saw the field again as Grant emerged.

Wynn finished third on the team with 203 yards rushing on 50 carries (4.1 avg. per carry) and four touchdowns. He has to get himself in better condition to make the 2008 roster and prove that he is durable.
Grade: D

Noah Herron: The third-year pro sustained a knee injury during Green Bay's final preseason game at Tennessee and was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Sept. 1. He has remained in Green Bay throughout the season rehabbing his knee and preparing to make a push to regain his position as a third-down back and special teams player.

Herron will likely be battling Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and Vernand Morency in the offseason and in training camp for playing time behind Ryan Grant.
Grade: Incomplete

FULLBACKS
Korey Hall: The rookie made a successful transition from linebacker in college to fullback in the NFL. Though he was inconsistent early in the season, and made steady progress throughout the season.

Hall also was drafted for his ability on special teams, where he stood out for the Packers. He tied for third on the team with 12 special teams tackles in the regular season. He also added five special teams tackles in the postseason.

Overall, Hall started in 10 games and played but did not start in four games in which the Packers opened with multiple-receiver sets. He suffered a hip injury on Dec. 16 at St. Louis and missed the team's final two games.

Hall is just getting his feet wet in the NFL, but he proved to be a good blocker for Ryan Grant. He made eight catches for 49 yards and did not have any rushing attempts.
Grade: C

John Kuhn: Give credit to Ted Thompson for claiming Kuhn on waivers from Pittsburgh on Sept. 2. Kuhn gained more playing time with the Packers as the season wore on and was featured in Green Bay's ‘inverted wishbone' with Hall and Ryan Grant late in the season.

A solid blocker and special teams player, Kuhn played in all 16 regular season games and both postseason games. He started the final two regular season games with Hall sidelined with a hip injury. Kuhn had 11 tackles on special teams and two catches for seven yards.

Kuhn has the inside track on retaining his job over Ryan Powdrell as the Packers enter their offseason workout program, minicamps and training camp.
Grade: C

Ryan Powdrell: The rookie free agent had an impressive training camp before injuring his knee late in training camp. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Aug. 27.
Grade: Incomplete

Editor's note: Stay tuned to PackerReport.com for an analysis of the Packers' wide receivers Wednesday on PackerReport.com.


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