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Future at running back not entirely clear for Packers

Green Bay may need to draft ball-carrier for first time since 2013


This is the second in a series of stories that's examining the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to the 2016 draft. The series continues with the running backs.

GREEN BAY – The Packers have gone two straight years without drafting a running back. It might be prudent to stop the streak there.

For the fourth straight year, the Packers will head into the season with the usual 1-2 punch at running back in Eddie Lacy and James Starks, but there's very little certainty at the position beyond them, and beyond now.

Lacy is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and while all indications are he's getting himself in much better shape after a sluggish 2015, there are no guarantees he remains with the Packers beyond this season.

Ideally, Lacy returns to the 1,100-yard rushing form he showed in his first two NFL seasons and puts himself in position for a worthwhile second pro contract. Whether or not that prompts a re-signing with Green Bay, though, is a discussion for another day. With a lot of factors at play, that'll be the big wait-and-see for 2017.

Starks recently re-signed for another two years, but he's now 30 years old. As a complementary player most of his career, he doesn't have the wear and tear of the typical 30-year-old running back, but the Packers have to plan for a future without him, too.

The only other tailback on the roster is John Crockett, an undrafted rookie last year from FBS power North Dakota State. He began 2015 on the practice squad and was elevated to the active roster in December.

Crockett showed promise with a noticeable burst in limited opportunities and coaches raved about his attitude and enthusiasm, but his status as a No. 3 back is by no means secure.

All of that points toward the Packers potentially spending a draft pick on a ball-carrier for the first time since selecting Lacy and the since-retired Johnathan Franklin in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, in 2013.

Fullback isn't an issue, with last year's sixth-round pick Aaron Ripkowski entering his second season and veteran John Kuhn still available on the free-agent market should the Packers want him back.

With other more pressing needs in the trenches on both sides of the ball, using a high draft pick on a running back seems unlikely. Finding a change-of-pace scatback in the later rounds might be the better fit.

Lacy and Starks have different running styles but both fall in the category of power back. Both have proven adept as pass catchers as well.

A smaller, quicker back who can get to the edge quickly via run or pass might give the offense an added weapon that's been missing. It also could set the Packers up for a different blend of 1-2 punch in the coming years, whether the feature back remains Lacy or becomes another power runner.

If it's still in the offensive plans to use receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery in the backfield on occasion to change things up, that won't stop the Packers from drafting a running back they like.

Talented players can find their way into packages in the playbook, and coaches never complain about having too many options to choose from.

View previous stories in the position-by-position breakdown

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