In the recent weeks, NFL pundits seem fixated on the Packers selecting a Running Back in the 1st round. It’s a frustrating notion, maybe even more so than suggesting that pending Free Agents Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles would also be viable options.
It mostly ignores how the Packer’s offense is run and how the front office operates, with a running back that already knows the system in Eddie Lacy. For starters, the Packers haven’t picked a back in round 1 since 1990. Second, they almost never give position players over 30 gobs of money at a position largely devalued by teams over the last 10 years.
What most people don’t understand is there is an opportunity cost to running the ball in Green Bay. This point was well illustrated by Paul Noonan, and I highly recommend reading it. The Packers need a back how can run between the tackles, receive and, arguably most importantly, pass block. How does that all pertain to the Packers and their Running Back depth? I look at both the Packer’s and Eddie Lacy’s perspective on his pending Free Agency.
What’s the Ideal Packer’s running back?
As outlined in Noonan’s article, the ideal Packer back can run between the tackles, but offers great value receiving and pass blocking. He was a big proponent of Branden Jackson, who could catch well and was one of the better blockers in the backfield, though he liked that he was limited in yards per carry, a point we will get to. He brings up a great point here – the protection of Rodgers and being able to deliver as an open receiver should be paramount, and running between the tackles, while nice, is not the most effective use of Rodgers’ gifts.
In the NFL, you are considered an at least average running back if you can get 4 yards per carry or more. Aaron Rodgers, over the course of his career has never averaged less than 6.68 Yards per attempt, and averages 7.91 over his career. Every time you run, you are acknowledging the opportunity cost of running the ball over Rodgers throwing the ball, and limiting yourself to 3.9 yards less per play. Essentially you want to have a running back that can get you the 4 yards when you need it, but not basically force you to run since you have one of the best QB’s in the league. While I am not completely sold on his valuation of Jackson, he was dead on as far as his valuation elsewhere.
Over the course of Rodgers’ tenure, the Packers have never cracked the top 11 in rushing attempts, and in Rodgers historic 2011 MVP season, ranked 26th in rushing attempts. These have been some of the best offenses in the league despite the Packers’ largely neglecting the run game. Moreover, they converted a wide receiver into running back and saw great success and one of Rodgers’ best stretches of his career during that time. A lot of it was due to the fact Montgomery is a great receiver. They had to respect not only his skills after the catch, but Rodgers ability to throw it deep. This creates match-up nightmares for coordinators and accentuates Rodgers’ assets. To this point, you want a Packer back to average somewhere between 7 to 8 yards per catch (around the league average).
Pass blocking has been a bit of a sticking point with McCarthy over the years, and has benched guys based on poor performance in the regard. The ideal back will be able to know the playbook (Christine Michael already eliminated here), sell play actions, and read coverage and blitzes. This was the sticking point with Noonan – Jackson was a stud of a pass protector. It stands to reason, you want to keep your best asset upright and making plays. Montgomery, while solid in the other 2 facets, struggled in this area. While there’s hope he could improve, the health of Rodgers is a lot to risk.
How does Eddie Lacy fit this ideal mold?
‘Fit’ seems like a poor word choice, but I’ll work with it. Despite the ire of fans for his weight issues, Lacy has been a solid performer in the run game. Lacy for his career, has averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and 5.1 before he was put on IR for an ankle injury. While many fans point to his weight causing performance issues in 2015, he still averaged 4.1 YPC on his fewest carries per game as a pro. He runs hard, breaks tackles, and fights for every yard. If you need a back to pick up a yard, he’s your man.
As a receiver, Lacy has been more than adequate despite limited usage in the last 2 years. He’s averaged 8.9 yards per catch, his lowest (7.0) was 2016 before his injury. On top of this, he has only dropped 2 catch-able passes in his 134 targets over 4 years. For a running back, that is absurd. While his size certainly limits him in this regard, the thought of DB’s trying to tackle Lacy in open space makes me smile. Also, for Peterson lovers, he’s been mediocre at best as a receiver, with him offering up back-to-back 5 yard per catch seasons. In 2012 he had a higher yards per carry average than he did yards per catch average – but the Packers should absolutely sign him…
Pass blocking certainly presents the biggest question mark. While prior to the 2015 season he ranked as a top 5 back in that regard, he gets limited use in this capacity, and his weight might limit him from preventing the pressure quick enough. He certainly has the size to take out any opposing pass rusher, but consistency remains to be seen from this standpoint. Again, for Peterson lovers, he’s been one of the worst pass blockers in the NFL for years. I hope I’ve made my Peterson point clear.
Final Verdict on Eddie Lacy
Weight problems and injury concerns will likely keep him from drawing a large demand on the open market. Spotrac estimates his value at about $3 million a year to keep. My guess is the Packers would offer an incentive based 1 year ‘prove it’ deal in the range of up to $5 million. There’s a decent number of FA backs out there (Blount, Murray, Peterson, Charles) that will draw enough interest to make Lacy uncomfortable hitting the market. For a guy with a lot to prove, who’s younger than all but 1 of the running backs listed above, he’ll likely bet on himself in this scenario.
For the Packers, he is an ideal fit. While his pass blocking efficiency could use some work, he excels in his usage elsewhere.Without Lacy or Montgomery in the lineup, and they relied far too much on the services of journeyman Christine Michael. Lacy offers enough on a carry to carry basis, won’t break the bank, and is more than adequate in passing situations. They can ill afford to take a chance on unknown commodities the open market or the draft. However, they should still look to add depth in the draft, as injuries are a concern for these two.
Lacy and Montgomery complement each other very well, as both their skill sets play off one another. Teams must respect their skills as a both a runner and receiver. Also, in the case of 3rd & 4th and short, it is nice to have someone with size who can churn out a yard to 2 with excessive contact. Pete Carroll should take note. The thunder and lightning combo will serve the Packers well, and on rare off days Rodgers has, prove invaluable.