The NFC North Grades and Needs series continues by looking at running backs. Let’s take a look at the numbers and the areas of need.
Green Bay: B+
Eddie Lacy had a productive five games before his season ending injury. Lacy notched 71 carries at 5.1 YPC for 360 yards but zero touchdowns. James Starks had a terrible year as the second back. Starks had only 63 carries for 145 yards at 2.3 YPC. Starks missed most of the year after a car accident and was cut this week.
The Packers didn’t appear to have a plan at third running back. Thompson traded for former Chief RB Kniles Davis who only had 5 carries for Green Bay. Christine Michael magically went on the waiver wire despite being productive for Seattle. Michael was picked up by Green Bay but only had 31 carries at 3.7 YPC in the regular season.
Fullback Aaron Ripkowski earned 34 carries at 4.4 YPC with a productive Week 17 at Detroit. Mike McCarthy made a shrewd move to switch Ty Montgomery from WR to RB due to injuries. It paid off big time. Montgomery had 77 carries for a whopping 5.9 YPC with many missed tackles. Green Bay, despite no plan at third running back, found a good back out of nowhere.
Green Bay was 20th in rush yards and only 29th in carries. However, the Packers were 7th in YPC with 4.5 YPC on the season with 1,701 yards. Green Bay had solid run blocking from their offensive line and teams worried about Aaron Rodgers to open up the run game. Lacy, Montgomery and Rodgers (scrambling) were the big reasons they were so efficient. Montgomery had some injury issues at RB and McCarthy had to keep his carries low. However, Green Bay ran the ball well in the 2016 season.
Eddie Lacy is a free agent and James Starks was cut after a disastrous season. Lacy should command at least 6 million per season based on RB contracts last season. Lacy can be a work horse back if he keeps his weight in check. He was productive in Green Bay for several years and deserves a decent RB contract. Green Bay must either keep Lacy or add a workhorse back to pair with a fragile Montgomery.
Chicago was 5th in yards per carry in the league with 4.6. The Bears notched 1,735 yards (17th) on 380 carries 25th. Jordan Howard was a beast in his rookie season taking over for injury Jeremy Langford. Howard had a monster 1,313 yards at 5.2 YPC on 252 carries. Howard ran for 6 touchdowns as well. Jeremy Langford had 62 carries at 3.2 YPC and struggled as the starting back out of training camp through the first 3 weeks. His injury was the best thing that happened to the Bears run game and paved the way for Howard to be the work horse. Langford did have 4 TDs with a nose for the end zone. Third string running back Ka’Deem Carey had 32 carries at 3.9 YPC for 126 yards.
The Bears have a pretty strong run game with Howard. They were down often which resulted in low carries from having to throw the ball all the time. However, Chicago has a good workhorse back and some solid blocking with Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and Josh Sitton on the interior of their offensive line.
Chicago should be set with Howard and could rely on Langford and Carey for improvement from young players. However, Chicago could add a veteran RB for insurance.
Minnesota: F or Incomplete
The Vikings were terrible running the ball in 2016. They had no run blocking and Adrian Peterson struggled then got hurt in Week 2. Peterson had only 37 carries at 1.9 YPC. His time may be done for the Vikings on a huge contract. Jerrick McKinnon has played better in past seasons but only ran for 3.4 YPC on 159 carries. Matt Asiata is still a third string back with 402 yards on 121 carries for 3.3 YPC. Asiata did have 6 TDs on the season and McKinnon notched two. The Vikings had 380 carries (25th) for a league low 3.2 YPC and 1,205 yards (32nd).
The Vikings had terrible run blocking and McKinnon and Peterson have been very productive in the past. The Vikings had injuries at tackle and poor interior run blocking. Minnesota must revamp their offensive tackle situation and RB situation to help Sam Bradford for 2017.
Minnesota needs to dump Peterson’s monster contract and add a good workhorse running back. Peterson has come back and surprised previously (2012 season). However, Adrian might be too old this time to be a good back going forward. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings handle their RB situation. Asiata is a free agent which means the Vikings may need to add two backs if they don’t re-sign Asiata.
Oh, what could have been!!! The Lions started hot running the ball the first two weeks (top 3 in YPC and yards) and Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick were on fire. Abdullah had 18 carries for 5.6 YPC. Riddick played only 10 games on the season and finished with 92 carries, 3.9 YPC and 357 yards after a strong early season. Riddick was Detroit’s leading rusher on the season which is a sad note only playing 10 games.
Detroit only had 350 carries at 3.7 YPC and 1,310 yards on the season. Abdullah and Riddick’s injuries had a lot to do with those issues along with run blocking woes. Detroit was 32nd in carries and 30th in rush yards. Detroit was not efficient as 27th in YPC. Stafford had no run game support other than some flashes from Zenner and Abdullah/Riddick in the first two games. Detroit had three +100 yard run games on the season only.
Zach Zenner showed some signs of life in the last four games. Zenner had 88 carries for 334 yards at 3.8 YPC. Zenner notched four TDs as well for Detroit and led the team. Dwayne Washington was a 7th round rookie and played like one despite pre-season flashes. Washington had a terrible 2.9 YPC on 90 carries for 225 yards. Washington went rogue and missed his holes way too often. Zenner and Washington just couldn’t make opponents miss like Abdullah and Riddick could.
Detroit got nothing from waiver pickup Justin Forsett or WR reverses this season. Stafford scrambled well with 5.6 YPC on 37 carries.
The run blocking was poor at LG (Laken or Glasgow) and Tight End all season. Reiff was average at right tackle in 14 games and Swanson was solid at center in 12 games for run blocking. Decker was good at run blocking at left tackle.
Detroit had terrible luck with Abdullah and Riddick’s injury. Detroit must add a workhorse back since Abdullah is working his way back from a second injury. The foot injury was a fluke on a great juke that had nothing to do with his size or ability to run between the tackles. However, offseason shoulder surgery after his rookie year plus the foot injury means Detroit needs a second workhorse back to pair with Abdullah.
Riddick is a great receiving back and improved between the tackles but should still be only a receiving back. Zenner is actually a nice number 3 back and gets tough yards but struggles if the run blocking doesn’t give him nice holes. Zenner is not shifty so if the run blocking fails, he will get stuffed for a loss or no gain.
Leveon Bell will get franchised despite a groin issue. Latavius Murray, LeGarette Blount and Eddie Lacy are the next best backs available. DeAngelo Williams, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson are older backs that have some talent still. Jonthan Grimes has been productive for Houston.
Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian Mcaffery and Alvin Kamara are the top backs available in the draft. There is usually a no name back lower on the list that performs well as rookies too. Just ask Jordan Howard.
Green Bay and Chicago were efficient but had low carries and low yards. Detroit and Minnesota had injuries and poor run blocking. Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit need work horse backs for various reasons (contracts, impending FA, injuries). All four teams could upgrade their third running back as well. We’ll see what upgrades are made in the next few months in the North.