In 2013, James Starks proved to be a near-perfect complement to Eddie Lacy -- and had the best all-around season of his four-year career.
James Starks' carries per game (6.7) in 2013 were the lowest of his career, but his 5.5 yards per carry average was by far the best of his career.
Mike Dinovo / USA TODAY Sports
By Paul Imig
FOX Sports Wisconsin's Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. Check every weekday through mid-April for his latest report.
Looking live: Even if James Starks was the most team-oriented player in the history of football, it would still be difficult to imagine that he was overly excited when the Packers drafted both Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in 2013. Those moves, coupled with the emergence in late 2012 of DuJuan Harris, made it fair to wonder if Starks' chances of remaining in Green Bay for much longer were slim. No matter which of those running backs was going to be in the game, coach Mike McCarthy had big plans. "We'll be better (in the running game), I can promise you that," McCarthy said in June 2013. "You can write that down. Big letters." When training camp began, it was Alex Green (remember him?) who was the first-string running back alongside Aaron Rodgers and the starting offense. Starks entered second, followed by Lacy and then Franklin. Starks got off to a great start in training camp, so he was earning every snap that he was getting. "James has done a lot better in the pass-protection (and) checkdown area," McCarthy said after Day 2 of practice. Starks continued to practice well, being noted in FOXSportsWisconsin.com's Training Camp Report series on Day 4 that he ran so well that defensive line coach Mike Trgovac screamed at his group for not better getting after him. Starks was the team's starting running back during the Family Night Scrimmage. However, by Day 9 of camp, Lacy had passed Starks on the depth chart. When it was time for the Packers to make final cutdowns, FOXSportsWisconsin.com accurately predicted that Starks would make the active roster.
Upon further review: This was the proper role for Starks. His carries per game (6.7) were the lowest of his career, but his 5.5 yards per carry average was by far the best of his career. Starks was a near-perfect complement to Lacy, and McCarthy did a good job in using him in the right spots. Even when Starks was forced to carry a full load in Week 2 (after Lacy was lost with a concussion), he was terrific against a shaky Washington defense, rushing for a career-high 132 yards. Starks, whose issues in the past have had more to do with injuries than talent, didn't make it through the entire season without missing some time, though. He suffered a knee injury in Week 3 and missed the next three games (over a span of four weeks because of the bye). It was the second consecutive season in which he suffered a knee injury, adding to a list that includes injuries to his hamstring, ankle and toe. When Starks returned from that knee injury, he went eight consecutive games without double-digit carries. But when McCarthy called on him to play a bigger role in must-win games in Weeks 16 and 17, Starks delivered with a 6.42 yards per carry average in 21 combined attempts against Pittsburgh and Chicago. That capped off what was the best all-around season of Starks' four-year career.
Status for 2014: One-hundred percent chance of being on Green Bay's active roster to begin the 2014 regular season. The Packers re-signed Starks this offseason to a two-year, $3.16 million contract extension. It was somewhat surprising that Green Bay decided to hang onto Starks, given that the Packers are suddenly loaded with running back talent in Lacy, Franklin and Harris. But with the modest amount of money in the deal, it made a lot of sense for Green Bay to agree to those terms. However, the role that Starks will have in 2014 remains unclear. Lacy is the unquestioned starter, and Harris was viewed by McCarthy as the starter heading into the 2013 season before Harris was placed on injured reserve. The Packers also want to give Franklin a longer look and see what they have in him. It's a good problem to have for Green Bay, though, as a team that went years without a quality running game.