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How the Green Bay Packers Will Use Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin

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Most of the fantasy community felt like they were given a springtime gift when the high-octane Green Bay Packers offense drafted  bulldozing Alabama running back Eddie Lacy with the 61st pick in April’s draft. That feeling was short lived, however, as general manager Ted Thompson traded up to snag the versatile runner, Johnathan Franklin, from UCLA two rounds later.

The assumption is that this will be a full time running back by committee — the kind that vexes fantasy owners — but what can we expect out the Packers rushing unit as a whole?

PACKERS RUSHING UNDER MIKE MCCARTHY
YEAR ATTS/GM NFL RANK RUSH % NFL RANK

2006

26.9

21

39.72

29

2007

24.3

28

39.98

24

2008

27.3

14

43.18

17

2009

26.9

17

41.3

22

2010

26.4

19

42.39

19

2011

24.6

26

39.43

25

2012

26.7

16

41.2

19

*Provided from www.teamrankings.com

Mike McCarthy is entering his eighth season as Packer head coach, and his sixth with Aaron Rodgers as his starting quarterback after two years with Brett Favre. As shown above, McCarthy’s west coast philosophy centers on the passing game, calling nearly 59 percent pass plays over his tenure.

Green Bay has ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing attempts and rush percentage every year but one, the exception being 2008, coinciding with Rodgers first year as starting signal caller.

Opportunities are already at a premium for a lone Packers running back, but being attached to a pass heavy offense is not necessarily detrimental to a fantasy running back. A lack of scoring opportunities is troubling, however.

YEAR RB RUSHTD

2006

 8

2007

13

2008

7

2009

15

2010

7

2011

7

2012

7

*www.pro-football-reference.com

RUSH TD%(INCL. RODGERS)
YEAR RUSH TD% NFL RANK

2008

22.92

32

2009

36.67

9

2010

24.19

27

2011

16.67

30

2012

20

25

*www.teamrankings.com

In seven years under McCarthy, Packers backs have scored fewer than nine combined rushing touchdowns in all but two seasons, only once with Rodgers at the helm. Only Ryan Grant in ’07 (8) and ’09 (11) exceeded more than five individual rushing scores.

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Eddie Lacy works out during the Green Bay Packers rookie orientation weekend. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

They’ve also finished higher than 25th in rushing touchdown percentage as a team only once since Rodgers has taken over, even when you include the 18 rushing scores Rodgers has scored over that span.

In the outlier year of 2009, Grant produced 1,253 yards and 11 ground scores on 282 carries (receiving 75.4 percent of all running back carries that season). I don’t believe any owner with a share of the rookie combo is anticipating 17 attempts per game and nowhere close to a carry split of three out of four.

The mediocre talent pool of previous Green Bay running backs, other than Grant, is not the sole contributing factor for the lack of scoring though.

Teams use their most effective playmakers to put points on the board in the red zone. For the Packers, that player is, and will likely remain, Rodgers. In his career as a starting quarterback, Rodgers has thrown an insane ratio of 108 touchdowns to only two interceptions in the red zone. So not only is he better than effective, he’s trustworthy in securing points for the offense. That has been less-than-great news for Green Bay running backs over the years.

Despite having a top five scoring offense in four of the past five years, when the Packers reach the red zone, odds are they will rely on the passing game.

YEAR

RB RZ LOOKS

NFL RANK

TM RZ ATT

NFL RANK

 SCORING RANK

2012

42

30

48

18

5

2011

66

16

66

4

1

2010

59

26

54

10

10

2009

79

14

61

5

3

2008

67

22

48

19

5

Red zone stats from footballguys.com RZ Look = carries+targets /team data from www.teamrankings.com

While those hoping Lacy will gobble up goal line carries need to be cautious about the expected lack of opportunities, so should those hoping that Franklin will get a boost in point per reception (PPR) formats. Rodgers pushes the ball down field to his playmakers in the passing attack — he doesn’t make a habit of dumping the ball to backs sneaking out of the backfield.

Brandon Jackson is the only back to catch more than 40 passes with Rodgers at the helm. In the five seasons with Rodgers as the team’s starter, only 16.9 percent of his completed passes have gone to backs.

Asking for one, let alone both players to emerge as a reliable fantasy commodity is unrealistic, barring a dramatic shift in how McCarthy and Rodgers use their running backs. Chase Stuart from Football Perspective examined similar  Lacy/Franklin pairings from prior drafts, pointing out that nearly none of the players have had a Year One fantasy impact regardless of the offense they were part of.

Don’t mistake this as an indictment on the talent of either player. It’s the opportunity for which we should remain wary over the next few months.

McCarthy is a smart offensive mind that will utilize both players to benefit Green Bay on the field. I expect an uptick in rushing as a team, but it’s hard to envision a staggering increase. Whether that translates into having a fantasy impact remains to be seen. If you’re investing in the Packers offense for 2013, I’d recommend staying with selections from the aerial attack until those changes are reflected on the field.

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