GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Packers’ running game got the huge boost it needed in the second round of the NFL Draft.
After trading back six spots to No. 61, Green Bay selected Alabama’s Eddie Lacy. He was considered the top running back in this year’s class by many draft experts, but he continued to slide down the board before the Packers finally took him.
“It was a really long wait,” Lacy said in a teleconference. “It’s going to a big motivation piece I can use. I couldn’t tell you why I slid so far but, at the end of the day, it is what it is and you can’t do anything about it. I’m just looking forward to being part of a new team and contributing.”
Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst said he was “a little bit” surprised Lacy fell so far.
Lacy, at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, started all 14 games as a junior in 2012 and rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns to help Alabama win the national championship. He was named the Most Valuable Player in that game against Notre Dame.
“I’m a bigger guy, a tough runner, a physical runner,” Lacy said. “That’s just natural. But I’m also shifty, and I can make defenders miss and also break long runs. I just feel like I can do anything.”
In Ted Thompson’s first eight years as Green Bay’s general manager, the highest he had ever drafted a running back was Brandon Jackson at No. 63 in 2007. Thompson, however, insisted that he’s never been opposed to drafting running backs in the early rounds.
“It’s just happenstance,” Thompson said. “It’s just the way it’s worked out. When I was in Seattle, we drafted Shaun Alexander (the 2005 NFL MVP) late in the first round and it turned out OK.”
Drafting running backs in the early rounds has become increasingly rare across the league. This was the first time since 1963 that a running back wasn’t drafted in the first round. With Lacy’s talent and production, though, there were more than enough reasons for Thompson to make this selection.
“He’s big, he’s powerful,” Thompson said. “He’s got a great lateral cut, spin move. He’s played at a fairly high level. Good kid.”
Lacy will have to prove himself worthy of becoming the Packers’ starting running back, but Green Bay hasn’t had a consistent player in the backfield since Ryan Grant rushed for 1,253 yards in 2009.
“I will allow the defense to not just be able to focus on the passes because there’s a back in the backfield who’s going to have to make them think about the run,” Lacy said. “And if we can run out of the shotgun, it’ll just make the offense that much more dangerous.”
Last season, Alex Green led the Packers in rushing with only 464 yards. Undrafted running back DuJuan Harris emerged late in the year and started in both of Green Bay’s playoff games, rushing for a combined 100 yards and two touchdowns in 28 carries. Harris likely would have been the Packers’ No. 1 option entering training camp had the team not added Lacy. James Starks, who was a significant contributor as a rookie in 2010 in Green Bay’s path to winning the Super Bowl, has been very injury prone the past two seasons. Cedric Benson, a veteran who was brought in to stabilize the the Packers’ running game in 2012, was injured in Week 5 and placed on injured reserve. Benson, now an unrestricted free agent, visited Green Bay this week, but it’s highly unlikely that he re-signs now.
The Packers were scheduled to draft at No. 88 in the third round, but Thompson traded with the San Francisco 49ers to move back five spots to No. 93, while also acquiring pick No. 216 (seventh round). However, when it was time for Thompson to make a selection at No. 93, he traded again, this time with the Miami Dolphins. In exchange for the 93rd overall pick, Green Bay received No. 109 (fourth round), No. 146 (fifth round) and No. 224 (seventh round).
When Day 3 of the NFL Draft begins Saturday morning, the Packers will have 10 picks to work with. Green Bay has two selections in the fourth round (Nos. 109 and 122), three in the fifth round (Nos. 146, 159 and 167), two in the sixth round (Nos. 173, 193) and three in the seventh round (Nos. 216, 224 and 232).
“Some of the trades resulted in solicitation on our part,” Thompson said. “Some of it was just spur of the moment. We get a phone call (and) if it sounds like a good thing, we checked the board, make sure it’s still solid and make sure we can do it.”