This is the second in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2017 draft. The series continues with the running backs.
GREEN BAY – The Packers’ backfield will have a new look in 2017.
The offseason departure of veterans Eddie Lacy and James Starks has ushered in a new era for Green Bay’s backfield with Ty Montgomery factoring heavily into those plans.
Although the Packers are likely to add another running back or two in the coming weeks, Head Coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson have spoken fervently about the converted receiver’s upside.
Montgomery’s rise up the depth chart has unique origins with midseason injuries to both Lacy and Starks freeing an improbable starting spot for the second-year playmaker, who first switched positions at the start of the regular season.
McCarthy officially anointed Montgomery a running back in December, one day after the unlikely starter produced 86 total yards and a touchdown in the Packers’ 38-10 win over Seattle.
A week later, Montgomery fashioned his first 100-yard day on the ground with 16 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-27 win over Chicago.
Not much is set in stone regarding next year’s backfield outside of Montgomery. The Packers re-signed veteran Christine Michael and return undrafted free agent Don Jackson, but the team still plans to add another runner (or two) to its current stable through either the draft or free agency.
There are multiple avenues the Packers could travel to fill out their backfield, with several established veterans still on the open market and a deep draft class of incoming running backs.
Three prospects – Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey – could potentially come off the board on opening night, which would be the first time since 2012 three were taken in the first round (Trent Richardson, Doug Martin and David Wilson).
The Packers haven’t drafted a running back in the first round since Minnesota’s Darrell Thompson in 1990, but Thompson has used second- and third-round selections to address the position over the past decade.
The Packers used second-round picks to acquire Lacy (2013) and Brandon Jackson (2007), and took Alex Green in the third in 2011. Additionally, Starks played seven seasons in Green Bay after being taken in the sixth round in 2010.
Lacy and Starks have been the cream of the crop, combining for 5,007 of Green Bay’s 7,604 rushing yards over the last four years (65.8 percent) despite missing 18 combined regular-season games in 2016.
In their absence, Montgomery led the Packers with 457 rushing yards, three touchdowns and 5.9 yards per carry. Michael added 31 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown after being claimed off waivers from Seattle in November.
Montgomery wasn’t the only pleasant surprise in the Packers’ backfield, though. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski, in his first year as a starter, added 150 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries despite having only six rushes in his four years at Oklahoma.
A sixth-round pick in 2015, Ripkowski proved to be a reliable third-down pass protector who’s also capable of handling the ball in short-yardage situations like his predecessor John Kuhn.
While Kuhn signed with New Orleans as a free agent in August, the Packers weren’t without a second fullback for long in promoting undrafted rookie Joe Kerridge from the practice squad in November.
The 5-foot-11, 242-pound fullback, a special-teams captain at Michigan, had two coverage tackles in eight games and saw 20 offensive snaps in the Packers’ full-house backfield.
The Packers have been upfront and forthright about needing to add more pieces to their backfield, but Montgomery’s upside and Ripkowski’s dependability give them some flexibility as they look to reload at running back.
QBs: Packers head into draft with two backups