Eddie Lacy & Johnathan Franklin Fantasy 2013
Green Bay added two explosive running backs in this years NFL draft. The Packers took Eddie Lacy in the second round at pick 61 and Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round at pick 125. Lacy was considered by some experts to be the top running back in the draft class. Franklin’s stock was on the rise heading into the draft and when he slipped into round four, he was a great value pick for the Packers franchise.
Adding both of these running backs was an immediate upgrade to a team lacking a true three down running back. There is no question that the Packers can air it out, but balance in the offense is essential to keep the defense honest and honor the run. The addition of both running backs was huge for the Packers organization, but left fantasy owners wondering, which running back should be the first off the board in this years fantasy draft? In order to understand the true value of the potential of each of these running backs I want to look at several of the factors that may effect the upside of this young running back corps.
The Green Bay Packers have not had a relevant running back since 2009 when Ryan Grant ran for over 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns finishing 8th among all running backs. During that season the Packers had a balanced attack with Aaron Rodgers finishing with over 4400 yards passing, 34 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Grant kept defenses honest and the Packers were able to get it done on the air and on the ground.
In the Super Bowl winning season of 2010 the running back situation was less than ideal. In week one, stud running back Ryan Grant injured his right ankle and would be lost for the rest of the season. Brandon Jackson took over the role as primary back playing in all 16 games and finishing with 703 rushing yards, and caught 43 passes for 340 yards, and total four touchdowns. He would finish as the 29th ranked running back in fantasy scoring that season.
In 2011, the Packers leaned on James Starks much of the season to take on the primary running back role. Starks played in 13 games finishing with over 500 yards rushing, and catching 29 passes for 216 yards receiving and scored 1 touchdown. Starks finished the season as the 43rd ranked running back in the 2011 season. Ryan Grant also returned and played in 15 games finishing with 559 rushing yards, 19 catches for 268 yards receiving, and 3 touchdowns. Grant finished the season as the 36th ranked fantasy running back for 2011.
In 2012 it was another year of the who’s who of running backs in Green Bay. Cedric Benson started the season as the primary ball carrier but his season ended with him on IR with a foot injury in early October. Alex Green would take on the bulk of carries at that point rushing for 456 yards, and catching 19 passes for and additional 133 yards with 0 touchdowns. He would finish the season as the 55th ranked running back after playing in 12 games. Dujaun Harris would finish the 2012 campaign as the primary back for the Green Bay Packers, rushing for 157 yards and catching 2 passes for 17 yards and scoring 2 touchdowns in the 4 games he played. The running back out of Troy looked to be the primary running back for the Pack heading into the 2013 season after a strong finish.
Offensive Line Woes
When looking at offensive line run blocking grades (PFF stats) the Green Bay Packers have had a relatively weak run blocking group. In 2009 when Ryan Grant had a huge season the Packers offensive line finished 17th in the league. In 2010, the Green Bay Packers had an average offensive line finishing 18th in the league with many of the same faces from 2009 including Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells, and John Sitton. The loss of Colledge in free agency to Arizona. The loss of Colledge caused the run blocking offensive line to struggle and drop to 20th in the league in 2011. The loss of Scott Wells and a new young core in Marshall Newhouse and TJ Lang, to go along with veterans Jeff Saturday and Josh Sitton, struggled all season long and finished 29th in the league in 2012 in run blocking. The Packers tried to add some much needed competition to the offensive line when they took David Bakhtiari and J.C.Tretter in the fourth round. This shows that the Packers were well aware of the lack of run blocking and pass protection and hopefully will open some holes for the new running backs.
Pass Heavy in the Red Zone
When comparing the data over the last four seasons the Packers are in favor or Aaron Rodgers to score whenever possible. In the Packers 2009 season when Grant finished 8th in the league among running backs in fantasy scoring the team passed for 17 touchdowns in the red zone and ran for 17 touchdowns in the redzone. Ryan Grant scored 8 of those red zone rushing touchdowns and all of them inside the 5 yard line. In the 2010 season the Packers threw for 21 touchdowns in the red zone while rushing for 10 more. The 2011 season showed more of the same with 32 passing red zone touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns. The 2012 season was by far the worse for running back production in the red zone with 7 rushing touchdowns compared to 26 passing touchdowns. I use this comparative to show that since Ryan Grants breakout season of 2009 the Pack have not rushed for over 10 total touchdowns in the red zone since with a large portion of red zone touchdowns coming through the air.
What does this mean for Franklin and Lacy?
The Present and Future
April 27th was a historic day in Packers history. Aaron Rodgers got a pay day that “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase would be proud of. The Packers extended Rodgers contract for five more years extending him through the 2019 season. Rodgers will also get 40 million in guaranteed money for the 2013 and gives Rodgers the highest paid salary contract per season NFL history. Also on April 27th the Packers picked up two solid running backs in the second and fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft. Fantasy owners were ready to draft Eddie Lacy due to the potential goldmine in Green Bay then they added the talented Johnathan Franklin leaving the fantasy outlook very hazy going in to the 2013 season. Where do fantasy owners draft each of these players. Which one has more value? I will break down Lacy and Franklin and use history to predict the future of each of these talented running backs.
Eddie Lacy Fantasy Forecast
Eddie Lacy appeared to be fantasy gold when he was taken by the Packers in the second round. Many football fans wondered as running backs like Gio Bernard, Leveon Bell, and Montee Ball were taken ahead of Lacy. It was later reported by Ed Bouchette that the Steelers passed on Lacy due to a “fused” toe, a result of a serious turf toe injury he suffered while at Alabama. Lacy is a strong runner that seeks contact and runs with power. When he is running at his best he can be compared to Marshawn Lynch. A large back that initiates contact, runs aggressively, can finish runs and always seems to fall forward picking up extra yards. Lacy has a ton of talent but he may never be anything more than a committee running back. Although his overall talent level seems to be higher than Johnathan Franklin, there are some concerns to consider on draft day when picking between the two running backs.
The major concerns with Eddie Lacy are his his durability and what some experts believe is a lack of passion to play football at the next level. Lacy had a few injuries beyond just the “fused” toe reported out of Steelers camp that led up to the combine and also in the NFL draft. Lacy also had a hamstring pull which kept him out of many of the drills at the NFL combine in February. When Lacy was healthy enough to hold a workout in April he appeared to be out of shape, slow, and lack passion. Lacy has all the tools to be a solid NFL running back, but these questions may be the reason they drafted running back insurance in the fourth round.
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Johnathan Franklin Fantasy Forecast
On draft day Johnathan Franklin was such a great value in round four that Ted Thompson actually traded up to get him. That is saying something if he realizes the value is there and the possibility that he needs insurance at the running back position. My initial reaction is Johnathan Franklin plays a lot more like Ryan Grant. He is a slasher that can run between the tackles but also great pass catching ability out of the backfield. Franklin also appears to have a cleaner bill of health than that of Lacy. Johnathan Franklin is a nice complement to Lacy as a change of pace and will more likely be used on passing downs as another option in the offense. Franklin has the type of game that was shown to have success for the Packers in 2009 with Ryan Grant. He is more likely to be the proverbial lighting to the Eddie Lacy thunder.
Franklin is not as powerful a runner as Lacy. It is also obvious that the Packers preferred Lacy in the draft when they took him ahead of Franklin in the second round. Although there were many more backs off the board it has more to do with the size of Franklin as he does not have the prototypical large build needed to hold up over the long term in the NFL.
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Who do I choose?
It is tough to gauge in this situation who will carry more value heading into the season. Lacy may see the bulk of work early but look for Franklin to be opportunistic and take advantage of the work when he gets his chances. If Lacy were to get injured than Franklin has the talent to potentially take over the bulk of the work in the Green Bay offense and vice versa. I look for Lacy to be a solid back to pick in standard leagues due to his potential as a goal line back. Franklin, on the other hand, I see as a great back to own in PPR leagues. He has better pass catching ability than Lacy and the Packers will be more likely to use him in passing situations running routes out of the backfield.
The potential gold mine as a fantasy back in Green Bay does not only rest on volume but also history. The Packers have had a progressively worse run blocking offensive line over the course of the last four seasons. They have also shown that they are more likely to pass in the red zone than run the ball. Over the last 4 season the Packers have only scored more than 10 rushing touchdowns in the red zone one time and that included Ryan Grants career year. This is a pass first offense in any regard and although Aaron Rodgers wants balance, he also wants the ball in his hands to make plays in the endzone.
Look for both of these backs to be drafted near one another in most fantasy formats. Unless one of these running backs loses significant time to injury both will play a role in the offense. If they are sharing I would expect to see about 800 total yards from each running back. Lacy will the lead the way in touchdowns with 5 and Frankline will catch over 30 passes. This will allow both running backs to score in the top 35 in most fantasy formats. If one of these running backs gets injured then volume and potential to score dictates the opportunity of low end running back 1 numbers. I like Franklin more especially in PPR leagues and I think he is a durable running back that fits the scheme better. If Lacy finds his passion, and can stay out of the training room, his upside may keep Franklin on the sideline for the majority of snaps.