Packers: The risk/reward of James Starks

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
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Expanding on our initial observations from Green Bay Packers minicamp:

We should add a qualifying statement to last week's assertion, the one where we said the Packers have committed to James Starks as their primary running back for 2012. Here's a better way of putting it: To the extent that the Packers will have a primary running back in 2012, James Starks appears to be the one and only candidate.

The difference? The Packers have the NFL's reigning MVP at quarterback and one of the league's most dynamic passing games. They will run the ball in 2012, but employing a reliable 250-carry ball carrier isn't as high on their priority list as it might be for some teams.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has indicated plans to tweak his running scheme this offseason, but if the team felt it needed to elevate the production of its running game dramatically, it likely would have added to its personnel this offseason. Instead, the Packers did not re-sign veteran Ryan Grant and conducted spring minicamp with Starks and second-year player Brandon Saine (70 career NFL snaps) as their top two runners.

(Alex Green, a third-round draft pick in 2011, was still recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.)

Starks has demonstrated strength and burst at times over the past two seasons, but the most important statistic of his career is that he has been healthy for only 16 games -- including the playoffs -- over the past three years. He missed his final season at Buffalo because of a torn labrum in his shoulder, was limited to seven games as a rookie because of a serious hamstring injury and was ineffective last season after spraining his knee and ankle in Week 11.

That, by definition, makes Starks' ascension a risk, but it's one the Packers figure they can manage as long as their passing game remains the crux of their offense. During a conversation last week, McCarthy widely praised Starks skills' -- including significant development as a pass protector -- while acknowledging his health will be the key.

"James [is a] very talented young man," McCarthy said. "The most important statistic for him is going to be availability. It has nothing to do with his skill set. He's getting better and better and better. … He's a young, raw guy that needs to play. If he can stay healthy, I think he'll make a significant jump as a player."

And in this offense, at least, that's probably enough.

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