GREEN BAY, Wis. — LeRoy Butler believes the Packers have three years left to get back to the Super Bowl or their window for being a championship-caliber team will close.
Butler, a Packers Hall of Fame safety who played all 12 of his NFL seasons in Green Bay, thinks that his former team is relatively close to returning to the Super Bowl. But, as Butler sees it, there’s one significant area preventing that from happening.
“They’re definitely not OK at running back; They can’t win a Super Bowl with (DuJuan) Harris as their best option,” Butler told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “The running backs they have right now, it’s going to be hard to win with these guys.”
The Packers currently have three running backs under contract for the 2013 season. Alex Green, a third-round pick in 2011, led the team in rushing last season with only 464 yards and will be back. James Starks, who now has one year left on his rookie contract, suffered several injuries and finished with 255 rushing yards. Harris, who Butler referenced, was Green Bay’s featured running back in the postseason and is likely still at the top of the team’s depth chart.
“There’s a lot of options in the draft they can go after at running back,” Butler said. “I love (Alabama’s) Eddie Lacy. For the two-down back, he’s shown he can pick up a blitz on third down. I don’t know how healthy he is, but a kid that size (5-foot-11, 231 pounds) in a zone-blocking scheme would be perfect. Then you can wear teams down once you get ahead. If (Lacy) is in your backfield, he can get you 1,250 yards.
“They (the Packers) need a guy with 1,100 yards every year. That’s all they need. He has to be consistent and healthy though, unlike Starks.”
Lacy will almost certainly be the first running back drafted, but the 22-year-old who won back-to-back National Championships could be available when it’s Green Bay’s turn to select at No. 26.
Many around the league see Wisconsin’s Montee Ball as the second-best running back in this class. At the Scouting Combine, Ball touted himself as the best three-down running back prospect, which is what coach Mike McCarthy described as the trait he most desires from that position.
Butler, however, isn’t buying it.
“No way; I don’t think Montee Ball can be a three-down back,” Butler said. “He’s not big enough (at 5-foot-11, 214 pounds). He is a touchdown-scoring machine, but you need a bigger guy if you want him in there for three downs. Lacy can run through people. Ball can’t.”
Butler added that he wouldn’t draft Ball until the third round.
“If you’re going to be in Round 1 or 2, you have got to have breakaway speed,” he said. “If you’re Montee Ball, he’s going to be a high pick somewhere in the first four rounds, and he’s going to make somebody’s squad.
“If the Packers are able to get him in any round from the second on down, he’s going to replace Alex Green and Starks. You don’t need those guys then. They’re just guys. They (the Packers) realize you need someone special back there.”
What Butler really wanted general manager Ted Thompson to do was find a way to sign veteran running back Steven Jackson. Despite being linked to Green Bay, Jackson signed with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this offseason.
“They did their due diligence (on Jackson), I guess,” Butler said. “It’s encouraging as a Packers fan that they even went after him. I appreciate the fact that they at least had conversations on it, but Steven Jackson wanted to come here (to Green Bay).
“If they got Jackson, more of these guys (the current Packers running backs) could have been released.”
Butler understands Thompson’s hesitance to spend too much money on a soon-to-be 30-year-old running back like Jackson. But, in Butler’s mind, the Packers need to do whatever it takes to make sure they’re back in the Super Bowl as soon as possible.
“If they’re not in the Super Bowl by 2014 or 2015, then they should be thinking about doing something different,” Butler said. “The Packers know they have a good fanbase that’s not going to panic on them. But, at the same time, there’s some wiggle room (in the salary cap) and they need to do some experimenting.”