The 6’2″ 218 lb. Starks should be well rested after a shoulder injury sidelined him for the entire 2009 season.
Prior to the injury, the three year starter played all 36 games and amassed 3,140 yards on 698 carries, good for a 4.5 ypc. average. He also added 34 TDs, 16 of them coming in his last full year in 2008.
In each year from 2006 through 2008, Starks managed to better his previous year in nearly every statistical category. There is no question he has the size, speed and intangibles to make for an intriguing rookie selection. Whether or not he is able to reproduce his production in the NFL is another matter altogether.
While Starks should have fresh legs from many months of game day inactivity, those same legs are also likely to suffer from a lack of conditioning due to that same inactivity. Sideline and off-field conditioning does not replace the rigors of a full season of contact work.
To wit, while impressive early in the Spring, Starks has now been sidelined for many weeks with a nagging hamstring injury and is losing ground to fourth string RB Quinn Porter.
Running back coach Edgar Bennett had praised Starks’s explosion, vision and change of direction early, but his lack of practice time leaves only guesswork as to what he can become with more reps.
Given the depth chart, there is a growing possibility that Starks could end up on injured reserve. Should that happen, je will not have seen game competition in more than two years. That would make for a dubious start to his professional career.
Looking at Green Bay’s depth chart, the 27 year old Ryan Grant (he’ll be 28 before the end of 2010) remains the clear starter. He’ll most certainly have at least one further year as the unquestioned starter.
Third down back Brandon Jackson, hasn’t been able to take advantage of the opportunities given to supplant Grant as the starter at any point, but as a free agent in 2011, could get an opportunity to compete for a starting job elsewhere at that time.
In my opinion, there is little chance that Jackson returns to the Packers in 2011. This should leave a wide open opportunity to the No. 2 running back position. Someone could have starter potential within three years if they can achieve that role.
Without the addition of another back in 2011, it would seem that the competition will be between Starks and Porter. Should Grant falter at any point along the way, the No. 2 running back would have immediate starting potential. Should this occur in 2010, Jackson is the obvious first choice. However, he has shown no ability to date to be a full-time replacement, so success is not guaranteed.
When watching the available film, it’s obvious what the Packer coaching staff sees in Starks. True to Bennett’s assessment, he displays excellent vision and a good burst to daylight. While perhaps a bit stiff in the hips, this is not unexpected for a back of his size and he more than makes up for it with good lateral mobility and burst.
Starks can reach his 4.5 40 yard dash top-end speed quickly and has the physicality to punish would-be tacklers.
Perhaps even more noteworthy than his blend of size, speed and vision are his incredibly capable hands. Starks hauled in a very impressive 105 receptions in his three years in Buffalo. Couple that with the fact that he only pulled in 12 during his first year as a starter, and you find he averaged better than 46 receptions per year over his last two years. James Starks has a rare blend of NFL size and 3rd down ability.
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Starks was not asked to master blocking in Buffalo. As Brandon Jackson found out early in his career, lack of blocking expertise has, and will, keep you off the field. This area of growth will be a key for Starks.
Not many sixth round running backs go on to have productive NFL careers and to expect anything other than a career matching this selection would normally be a fool’s folly. In this case, the rare combination of skills that Starks possesses, along with his drafted situation in Green Bay makes for a very intriguing early 2nd round selection in rookie drafts.
When reviewing dynasty rookie drafts, Starks appears to be a selection in the early teens, on par with what I believe his value to be. Should you be a coach with adequate WR youth and depth (such that you could pass on a WR at this pick), as well as patience, I could actually make a case for a selection of Starks in the 9-11 range.
With any 2nd round RB choice, the desire is for them to eventually get a crack to be a starter. The tea leaves tell me that he will get this opportunity.
The rest is up to him.