Two-a-Days: Running Backs

Our two-positions-a-day training camp preview continues in the backfield. We tell you about their strengths and weaknesses, use our 20-20 general manager's goggles to find better (and worse) options, and provide a surprising comparison between Ryan Grant and Adrian Peterson.

Running back

Probable starter:

Ryan Grant.

Depth:

Brandon Jackson, James Starks, Kregg Lumpkin, Quinn Porter.

The lowdown

Ask anyone who the best running back is in the NFC North, and undoubtedly the reply would be Adrian Peterson. Maybe Grant would beat out the Bears' Matt Forte as the No. 2. To be sure, Peterson is a special talent. There aren't many players in the league that have you holding your breath every time he gets the ball. With that said, let's look at the numbers. Last year, Peterson ranked fifth in the NFL with 1,383 rushing yards. Grant ranked seventh with 1,253. Grant's 4.4 yards per carry actually is slightly higher than Peterson's 4.4 average. While Peterson's 38 rushes of 10-plus yards ranked second in the NFL and easily outdistanced Grant's 24, Peterson was stopped for no gain (or worse) on a league-high 37 carries compared to 26 for Grant. Of course, the big figure in Grant's favor is fumbles. He didn't cough it up once on a running play all season while Peterson's six lost fumbles led all NFL running backs. Grant is one of four running backs with back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons (the others are Peterson, Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Jet-turned-Chief Thomas Jones. The primary backup is Jackson, a second-round pick in 2007. He's so good in pass protection that Mike McCarthy compared Jackson to Hall of Famer Marcus Allen. That's terrific. But you'd like a second-round running back to be known for, you know, running the ball. The coaches love Grant for obvious reasons, but Jackson carried the ball only 37 times last year. Even midseason addition Ahman Green, despite being well past his prime, got 41 carries. Jackson's longest carry went a measly 9 yards and he never averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in a game. On the bright side, he averaged a superb 8.9 yards per reception, with a gain of at least 10 yards in nine of his 12 games. Starks has some really exciting upside, based on his collegiate production as a runner and receiver, but he runs tall, has a nagging injury history and fumbled far too often. Lumpkin is perpetually injured. Porter, an intriguing prospect from Division II Stillman, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a senior.

Quoteworthy

Running backs coach Edgar Bennett, on Grant: "When he gets to the second level and it's now just one-on-one with the defender, we have to win those battles. I think it's really more just making the most out of every opportunity. Our goals are set. We all know our goals around here. That will never change. His standards are high, as well."

Could be better

Jackson was the fifth of 18 running backs selected in 2007, grabbed at No. 63 overall. Peterson is the only star in the bunch and half of the others are out of the league. The final running back taken in that draft was Ahmad Bradshaw, at No. 250 by the Giants. He's rushed for 1,323 yards and nine touchdowns in his career compared to 626 yards and four touchdowns for Jackson.

Could be worse

Where would the Packers be without Ted Thompson sending a sixth-round pick to the Giants to get Grant at the end of training camp in 2007? Jackson hasn't been explosive and the other running back the Packers drafted that year, seventh-rounder DeShawn Wynn, is out of the league.

On a scale of 1 to 10 ...

With a 10 being Charles Woodson against anybody, a 5 being Mason Crosby from 45 yards and the ball on the right hash and a 1 being Allen Barbre against anybody, this position group rates an 8.0.

You've got to love Grant's productivity, reliability and durability. He just keeps going and going and gets better as the season progresses despite an enormous workload. Over the last two years, Grant has taken a whopping 79.4 percent of all of the carries that went to the running backs and fullbacks. Can he sustain that toughness again, and if not, are Jackson or Starks (or anyone else) ready to pick up the slack?


Fullbacks


Brandon Jackson follows Quinn Johnson.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Probable starter:

John Kuhn.

Depth:

Korey Hall, Quinn Johnson.

The lowdown

There's a saying among coaches that if you have three quarterbacks, you don't have any. The same might as well be said for the Packers' fullbacks. They have three of them, and if you combined them into one player, you'd have a real stud. But taken individually, there's not much shock and awe. Kuhn played about as many snaps as Hall and Johnson combined last year and does everything adequately. McCarthy has a sort of strange affinity for giving Kuhn the ball in short-yardage and goal-line situations, even though Grant was 6-for-7 in scoring touchdowns on runs from inside the 3 last year. Nonetheless, Kuhn generally succeeded in that role last year. Hall is the better athlete, perimeter blocker and special-teamer but has missed five games in each of the last two seasons. Johnson certainly looks the part but struggled to adapt from the one-on-one blocking scheme at LSU to the zone scheme at Green Bay. He clearly has the most potential of the group but he's got a lot to prove to keep his roster spot.

Quoteworthy

McCarthy, on Johnson: "Quinn is the type of player I think will show up more when the pads are on. It's definitely his strength. He's a thumper, as far as his style of playing the fullback position. He needs to progress in some of the other areas, particularly on special teams."

Could be better

The Dolphins signed Lousaka Polite off the street midway through the 2008 season after he failed to make the Bears' roster out of training camp. A top-notch blocker, Polite was the NFL's best-short yardage runner last year, converting all 16 carries on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1.

Could be worse

The Texans are counting on former Packers castoff Vonta Leach. Houston ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing with 3.5 yards per carry.

On a scale of 1 to 10 ...

With a 10 being Charles Woodson against anybody, a 5 being Mason Crosby from 45 yards and the ball on the right hash and a 1 being Allen Barbre against anybody, this position group rates a 4.0.

Maybe McCarthy's "Pittsburgh Macho" would come into play if any of his fullbacks developed into significantly above-average blockers. Maybe that will be Johnson this year, because Kuhn and Hall have proven to be pretty mediocre.


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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