For Green Bay Packers fans, one of the biggest mysteries of the 2017 draft was how high a priority the team placed on adding to its stable of running backs. It turns out that running back was low on Green Bay’s priority list, just as we predicted it would be.
Fans were teased for months about the notion that Green Bay was hoping to obtain the services of versatile Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. We were led to believe that McCaffrey was being overlooked by NFL teams, and might be available when the Packers’ number was called late in round 1.
It was all silliness. McCaffrey went to Carolina as the eighth overall pick.
When the talk about McCaffrey started to die down, attention turned to Dalvin Cook, a speedy and shifty (5’10”, 210 pounds) back out of Florida State. He produced like crazy for the Seminoles, but he also has a long history of injuries and run-ins with the law. Cook was viewed by most as a second-round prospect.
Interspersed with the publicity about McCaffrey and Cook, there was constant speculation over Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, whose off-field issues make Cook look like a choir boy.
When I did a survey in late March of 19 national prognosticators, three of them predicted the Pack’s top draft pick would be a running back – the same number that thought it would be a cornerback. Six ninnies went with linebacker and five went with guard.
As if we weren’t bombarded with enough misinformation, the media also spent months spreading off-and-on rumors that Vikings’ legend Adrian Peterson would be joining the Packers. That was never going to happen, but it made for good offseason filler by sports media hacks.
We now know the Packers never had plans to draft a top running back. Nor was it a good year for running backs – other than McCaffrey, the only other back taken in the first round was the “can’t-miss” LSU junior, Leonard Fournette, taken fourth by the Jaguars. In round 2, Cook was taken by the Vikings at number 41, and the Bengals used pick number 48 to take a chance on Mixon.
So, if you were one of those who bought into all the rumors that the Packers were about to invest in a top running back prospect, you got gamed.
Vote of Confidence in Current Rushers
By choosing not to draft a running back in the early rounds, Ted Thompson and his crew clearly signaled their belief that Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and Aaron Ripkowski can get the job done in 2017. I tend to agree, though you can’t help but be nervous over such an unproven threesome.
Montgomery looked like a versatile and veteran rusher last year, though the truth is he’s only had 77 carries since his midseason debut in the backfield. His 5.9 yard rushing average bodes well, though he only averaged 3.6 yards in the playoffs. He looks like he’ll be a better-than-average NFL back – and his receiving talent is almost as important to an Aaron-Rodgers-led offense as his rushing capability. His durability is unknown.
I was a fan – but a provisional one – of Christine Michael last year, and his lack of usage disappointed me. My article title of late November said it all: “Can Christine Michael Give Us Six Good Weeks?” Both the Seattle, his former team, and Green Bay coaching staffs appear to be concerned over Michael’s reliability and consistency. He tends, for instance, to forget what play is being run. Michael has the physical ability – he’s a stud of an athlete – but if he has a role with the team, it’s probably as a James-Starks-like backup.
Aaron Ripkowski has already been a very pleasant surprise at Green Bay. He bears no resemblance to the guy chosen as the 206th overall pick in 2015. The blocking back out of Oklahoma had a total of six carries in four years as a starter at Oklahoma – all as a senior. By all indications, however, the guy is an NFL-quality ball carrier. He averaged 4.4 yards in his 34 carries in 2016. When it comes to getting short yardage on third or fourth down, I think he’s better at it than was Eddie Lacy. Though he’s not fast, the almost 250-pounder showed last year that when he breaks through the hole, he’s not just a short-yardage threat.
As many have pointed out, though the Packers endlessly preach about the importance of a strong running game, they make no effort to balance the number of rushes and passes. Mike McCarthy relegates the run game to a secondary status. That’s the way it’s been and will remain.
I expect to see Montgomery average 12 to 15 carries in 2017 and Ripkowski from five to eight. I also anticipate that the Packers will use less of the one-back set and regularly put Montgomery and Ripkowski in the same backfield. This offers the threat of a shifty runner, a power runner, a punishing lead blocker, and a converted receiver coming out of the backfield. That kind of formation and versatility should keep a defense from knowing what play to expect.
If Montgomery and Ripkowski continue to progress and develop in what are new roles to both, the Packers should have an adequate run game to support the main act. The Packers round 4 and 5 picks of BYU running back Jamaal Williams and then UTEP back Aaron Jones also makes perfect sense, as the team does need more depth at the position. Past history tells us it’s almost a sure thing that fourth through sixth round picks make the Packers’ roster.
That puts Michael in serious jeopardy.