No running backs were selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The position as a whole has been devalued thanks to the increased reliance on “running back by committee’s” and the perceived ease of finding a late round option at the position.
With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers saw the value of having a balanced attack and looked to improve their running game with the selection of Eddie Lacy in round two. But with Rodgers injured and out of the lineup, Lacy has become much more than a needed balance for the Packers offense. Lacy has thrived in his role as the lead back, carrying this offense as they hope to ride him to the playoffs.
Here’s our scouting report of Eddie Lacy, our top running back prospect, before the draft:
“A power back in every sense of the term, Lacy is the best player at his position in this draft class. Running behind his pads and lowering his shoulders before contact, he has the physicality teams want from a back his size. Plus, he is light on his feet and able to spin off initial contact for additional yardage. This ability to run through or elude defenders allows Lacy to set up his blockers and react to tacklers.
As a pure power back, Lacy is a two-down player best suited to a multiple-back offense. He will be a go-to option between the tackles and short yardage specialist.”
Leading the NFL in rushing since Week 5, Lacy has been asked to shoulder the load of the running game for the Packers, allowing the passing game to thrive and make the Packers a realistic Super Bowl favorite. With tremendous size, power, and physicality in traffic, Lacy developed a knack to finish runs in short yardage, and began to be more and more comfortable finding holes in opposing defenses as the season wore on.
Now, with Rodgers still out with a collarbone injury, Lacy has become the face of the Packers offense, and is flourishing in the role. Against the Vikings last weekend, he finished with 65 yards after contact, picking up seven first downs.
Lacy doesn’t possess elite foot speed or quickness to consistently break big plays, but he’s able to pick up chunks of yards thanks to powerful upfield burst, a strong lower half to embrace contact, and a nastiness as a runner that has given this running game the consistency it has desperately needed the past few years.
Thanks to his lack of top end speed, Lacy relies on a powerful up-step through the hole to exploit gaps on outside zone runs. In the play below, Lacy’s offensive line slides right smoothly, getting their hands on linebackers at the second level. While the initial hole would be good for a handful of yards for most running backs, Lacy drives his foot into the ground as soon as he sees the opening, generating a powerful downhill burst and making him a tough tackle for a defensive back at the second level.
As a team on their 4th quarterback this season, the Packers relied on Lacy to continue drives on Saturday, especially on the comeback drive with the down 10 points in the fourth quarterback. On a 4th down and needing more than field goal to mount a comeback, the Packers decided to go for the first. Opting to run the ball to the short side of the field, the Vikings sniff it out and collapse the would-be hole. Lacy is able to keep his balance despite being held up, and is able to fight through three tacklers, powering ahead thanks to his powerful lower half to keep the drive alive.
Later on that same drive, Lacy grabs a swing pass from Matt Flynn. Catching the ball with ample space in front of him, Lacy secures the pass (one of six receptions on the day) and picks up speed quickly. Gaining steam as he works downfield, Lacy picks up ten yards and trucks through the defensive back for a punishing hit, giving this Packers team a first down, landing them inside the red zone, and giving this team the momentum they needed to finished the mounted comeback and get this team into overtime.
With Rodgers expected to still be out for at least one more game, the Packers will continue to rely on Lacy to be the focal point of the offense. Already fifth in carries in the NFL, Lacy shouldn’t see his 20 carries per game average dip as the Packers push towards the playoffs.
With just one fumble all season and Lacy’s ability on third down, especially against the Vikings, the pressure doesn’t seem to be too big for the rookie. And for Mike McCarthy and the Packers, they’ll need the 230 pound running Lacy to shoulder the load as the team pushes towards the playoffs.