The Green Bay Packers’ rushing offense was the best it’s been in a decade last season and the team is making sure to keep the two-headed monster that made it so successful intact for a couple more years.
Green Bay has reportedly come to terms with free-agent running back James Starks on a two-year deal, according to multiple media outlets. Starks had received interest from other NFL teams but ultimately decided to return to the Packers, who drafted him in the seventh round in 2010.
Though he battled numerous injuries during his first three years, Starks remained relatively healthy in 2013 and had the best season of his career. He played in 13 games — tied for his most in a season — and carried the ball 89 times for 493 yards with a career-high three touchdowns. His 5.5-yard average was more than a yard higher than his previous best. The production validated Packers coaches’ belief that, when healthy, Starks can be a dangerous runner.
The 28-year-old Starks combined with 2013 second-round pick Eddie Lacy to form a potent one-two punch in the Packers’ backfield last season. Lacy started 15 games and rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns, winning the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year award.
While the robust Lacy used his raw power and physicality to batter defenders, Starks, a sinewy 6-foot-2, 218-pound one-cut-and-go back, made decisive moves and effectively got to the outside last season. He had six runs of at least 20 yards, double the number Lacy had. Starks seemed to flourish in the part-time role.
The Packers rode their two backs’ contrasting styles to 2,136 yards in 2013. Their 133.5-yards-per-game rushing average was the seventh-best mark in the league and the team’s highest output since 2003.
Green Bay has had injury issues at running back for several years, starting in 2010, Starks’ rookie year, when he played in just three regular-season contests before starting every game in the playoffs and helping the Packers on their run to the Super Bowl. The theme of Starks’ career has been that, when he’s not in the trainers’ room, he’s very valuable.
He’s played in just 35 of a possible 64 games over his four-year career. But given the injury potential of Lacy’s bruising style, as well as the uncertain health of fellow returning running backs DuJuan Harris — who missed all of last year with a knee injury — and Johnathan Franklin — who finished the season on injured reserve due to a concussion — the Packers probably felt they couldn’t let Starks go.
Starks is the fifth Packers free agent the team has re-signed. General manager Ted Thompson has also brought back cornerback Sam Shields, linebacker Mike Neal, defensive lineman B.J. Raji and tight end Andrew Quarless.