Make no mistake about it, the Green Bay Packers know that they have to address the running back position at some point this offseason and after kicking the tires on a number of veterans, it's time for general manager Ted Thompson to turn his attention toward his favorite method of player acquisition: the NFL Draft.
After an offseason that saw the Packers meet with veteran free agent running backs like Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw, it was reported yesterday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the team was meeting today with Cedric Benson, who was Green Bay's starting running back in 2012 before an injury ended his season after just five games.
According to the report, the Packers want to gauge the health of the eight-year veteran and see where he's at in terms of his rehab. If healthy, there would likely be an interest in bringing back Benson, who carried the ball 71 times for 248 yards and caught 14 passes for 97 yards last season.
However, just because the two sides are meeting doesn't necessarily signal a deal is in the works. In fact, Green Bay fans should hope a deal isn't in the works because now more than ever it's crucial for Thompson to invest a high draft pick in the running back position.
Year after year, during the Thompson era, the Packers have found themselves scrambling to find a starting running back. Following Ahman Green's departure in 2006, Ryan Grant has been the only consistent starter for the club and while he was productive, he was never a game-changer. After Grant, the position has been a revolving door. Because of this the ground game has been so dysmal in the Thompson era that the Packers have finished among the top-20 in terms of rushing yards just twice in his eight years as general manager.
There has been plenty of talk about how the Packers need to get more physical this offseason. Well, a great way to do that would be to add a physical runner, who can finally bring a legitimate threat to the running game and relieve some pressure from Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.
Sure the NFL is a passing league, there's no disputing that. But football is still football. To win in the NFL, you still have to block, tackle and run the ball.
The running game doesn't have to be the focal point of the Green Bay offense and let's face it with Rodgers at the helm, it never will be. Yet, there are times when you need to be able to grind out a yard at the goal-line or to pick up a crucial first down and to be honest, the Packers have struggled in those situations for years. How many times have we seen Rodgers dropping back from the shotgun out of a spread formation on third-and-one? Too many to count and I for one am sick of it.
Yes the team needs to get more physical along the offensive line and that has been admittedly part of the problem. But after seeing defense after defense play their safeties deep against Rodgers last season in order to limit the big play, wouldn't it be nice to get a bruising back like Alabama's Eddie Lacy or UCLA's Jonathan Franklin, who can finally make teams pay for having only seven defenders in the box?
Lacy, who carried the ball 204 times for 1,322 yards last season to go along with 17 rushing touchdowns in the rough and tumble SEC, would be a perfect fit in Green Bay. At 5-11, 231 pounds, the Alabama standout provides a physical presence while still being able to make defenders miss in the open field. He is the runner most often linked with the Packers and could potentially be their selection at no.26 overall.
Yet, Franklin has also been generating a lot of buzz as in the final days leading up the draft and even though he will probably not come off the board in tomorrow's first round, he is looking like a sure-fire day two pick and if the Packers pass on Lacy in round one, they should hope Franklin falls to them in round two.
Franklin was extremely productive during his four seasons playing for the Bruins and last season was his best, as the 5-10, 205-pounder rushed for 1,734 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and scored an impressive 15 total touchdowns. During his four years at UCLA, Franklin ran for a total of 4,403 yards, while also catching 58 passes for 517 yards and scoring a total of 34 touchdowns.
Franklin is rising up the boards so fast that ESPN's K.C. Joyner has labelled him one of the draft's best value selections because he is being so under valued despite his skills and production. Joyner actually argues that even though Franklin is now seen as a second-round pick, he is a first round talent and arguably as good as any running back in this class.
It's not a bad thing for Thompson and the Packers to kick the tires on Benson because you never know how the draft will play out. Yet the team needs to finally find a long-term solution at the running back position because one thing is clear: The years of stop-gaps aren't working and with the team so close to another Super Bowl title, Thompson needs to stop bargain shopping and finally give his team the premier running back it's been missing.