Here's latest proof that the NFL has become a pass-first league: Running back prospects are on the verge of falling entirely out of the first round of this year's draft.
The last time the first round went without a running back taken was 1963, and former Alabama star Eddie Lacy is considered the only rookie-to-be who is worthy of extending that streak. So the imagine the irony if Lacy goes to Green Bay with the 26th overall pick.
The Packers, as long as Aaron Rodgers is playing quarterback, sure aren't going to revolve their vaunted offense around a running back. In eight drafts under general manager Ted Thompson, they've selected a total of four true tailbacks. Brandon Jackson, in the second round in 2007, was the only one taken before the third round. The last first-round running back picked by the Packers was Darrell Thompson out of Minnesota in 1990.
But, hey, perhaps this is the time to buck the trend. The Packers have only four running backs right now: DuJuan Harris, Brandon Saine, Alex Green and James Starks. Combined, they have eight seasons on the roster and 1,677 career yards rushing.
The powerful Lacy has had injury problems and lacks top-level speed, but he rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns for the national champion Crimson Tide last season. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy left school after his junior year.
"He's faster than you think," Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this month at the school's pro workout day. "He has very deceptive speed and very deceptive quickness. ... I think Eddie is a very, very complete player. I don't really see a lot of flaws in his game. I think he'll be a very, very good player for somebody."
The Packers have eight selections in all, including an extra fifth-rounder. Safeties, defensive tackles and offensive tackles could also entice them in the early rounds. So could a tight end, with Jermichael Finley in the last year of his contract, Andrew Quarless coming off an injury-lost season and Tom Crabtree already departed as a free agent.
Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert would make sense as Finley's replacement, if he's still available when the Packers are on the clock. Eifert led the national runner-up Fighting Irish with 50 receptions for 685 yards and four touchdowns, and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he sees Eifert as a solid blocker, too.
"He doesn't get out of the first round," Mayock said on a conference call with reporters last week.
At safety, the Packers could use the next Charles Woodson or even the next Nick Collins. Maybe Matt Elam of Florida will fit the part. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound Elam led the Gators last year with 11 tackles for loss, seven passes broken up and two forced fumbles. He also had two interceptions in his breakout season.
"Really the only downside is his height, and there's nothing you can do about that," Mayock said, adding: "You're going to have to live with that. But on the positive side you get a kid that tackles, a kid that's tough, a kid that cares."
Thompson has never been shy about trying to strengthen the Packers up front. This year they could clearly use some more help on both sides of the ball, despite making offensive tackles their first-round picks in 2011 and 2010: Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga.
Despite that gaudy 36-12 record over the last three regular seasons, plus a 5-2 mark in the playoffs including the 2011 Super Bowl, the Packers have some cracks in the foundation. Protection for Rodgers was spotty at times. The run defense was trampled in the playoff loss to San Francisco, as well as by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
No matter what point the NFL is at in its evolution of styles, pass, run or somewhere in between, successful teams will always need sturdy offensive and defensive lines.
Defensive tackle B.J. Raji is in the final year of his contract. North Carolina's Sylvester Williams and Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins are a couple of well-regarded defensive tackles the Packers could give strong consideration to.
"Everybody focuses on the first round. You guys know I'm just as keen on all the other rounds," Thompson said last week at a predraft news conference in Green Bay. "But you don't know how it's going to go. So you don't want to gnash your teeth over that first pick too much. You just do what you do."
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