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James Starks is a hot topic.  But should he be?

The 24 year-old rookie, drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL draft, had not taken a hit in competitive play in almost two years after suffering a shoulder injury in his senior season in Buffalo, finally seeing his first action in week 13 of the 2010 NFL season.  Coming out of Buffalo, Starks managed back to back 1,000 yard seasons while massing 34 TDs in his combined sophomore and junior seasons.  Most notable in Starks’s game is not his legitimate 4.45 speed and long-striding one-cut-and-go ability but, instead, his hands out of the backfield and burst through the initial hole.  In three years at Buffalo, Starks managed to haul in a ridiculous 137 receptions, 93 of which coming in his final two years.

Starks, at 6’2″ and 215 lbs. does tend to run a bit high as backs his size often do, but his field vision and ability to quickly capitalize on narrow seams through the offensive line make him a difficult target to bring down once his first cut has been executed.  Once in the secondary, Starks shows surprisingly loose hips and a down-hill style which allow for more than adequate yardage after first contact.  While not heavily used in the passing game as of yet, you can bet that Mike McCarthy will showcase his abilities in this area soon enough.

During the 2010 season, Starks managed a pedestrian 3.5 ypc. average on 29 carries.  This is not surprising as he saw his first action in almost two years and the Packers have a capable, if not unimpressive backfield committee already featuring Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn.  Starks seemingly missed a golden opportunity for more meaningful touches when Ryan Grant found himself on IR early in 2010.  A troublesome hamstring injury in training camp ultimately sent Starks to the PUP list leaving questions about his ability to stay healthy after such a long layoff.

Fast forward to the post season and Starks has improved his ypc. average to 3.8 on 70 attempts, showing increased rushing instincts, a reemergence of the downhill style exhibited at Buffalo and the ability to grind out tough yards when no rushing lane exists.  Most notable was his performance against an aggressive run defense in Philadelphia where he amassed 123 yards on 23 attempts, a 5.2 ypc. average.

But what does Starks offer in 2011?  The answer largely depends on the Packer’s belief in Ryan Grant.

Grant has a single year left on his deal which will pay him a $1.75M roster bonus in addition to a $3.5M 2011 salary.  The 28 year old Grant will be up to full speed prior to the 2011 NFL draft and, as of yet, there have been no indications that the Packers will deal him prior to having to pay the bonus.  Should the Packers believe that Starks, himself a Ryan Grant clone, provides a future carry-the-load ability, Grant could find himself on the trading block in what seems to be a relatively weak 2011 running back class.  Such clubs as New England and Miami would provide ideal landing spots for Grant.

In all likelihood, the Packers will hold onto Grant as Brandon Jackson is a free agent and should receive some interest on the open market.  Starks will likely serve as insurance while he learns the greater subtleties of blocking in 2011.  While Starks has shown enough thus far to bring a level of excitement of “what could be” in coming years, he is by no means a sure thing.

It’s widely believed that a team can develop a starting running back from nearly any situation, they need not be highly drafted.  Willie Parker, Terrell Davis, Priest Holmes, Dominick Davis, Ryan Grant, Michael Turner, etc. etc. all rose from virtual anonymity to become fantasy stars; the list that have is as long as those that have been highly drafted only to under-perform expectations.

Based on what I had seen from Starks in college, I was genuinely surprised that he lasted until the 6th round.  Few backs that have the size, blocking and receiving abilities to remain on the field for three downs.  While Starks has much room for improvement in the areas of pass protection and blitz recognition, his tangible qualities are too great in my estimation for him not to receive a significant number of carries going forward with the hope that he can be an eventual starter.

When considering unproven talents such as Starks in their first year, I consider them much like I do the would-be rookies, determining their fantasy draft stock as a 2nd year rookie.  For Starks, his 6th rounds initial selection must be considered and his detractors are not unfounded in their belief that he has yet to show anything that guarantees starter potential.  For this reason, I am pegging Starks as the #3 player in this year’s rookie draft for valuation purposes, following only Mark Ingram and AJ Green.  Note that I also have no problem considering Starks at #1 or #2 depending on the drafted situations of both Ingram and Green.  Starks HAS shown enough to provide intrigue as a starting back in the NFL and he’s certain to get carries to that end either in 2011 or 2012, but patience is advised.  His body of work thus far simply provides more promise than most all rookies in most any situation.

James Starks is an intriguing player as we head into the Super Bowl in that he has provided enough for owners to be giddy about the future, non-owners to be skeptical of his future production and those with no opinion to remain ambivalent.  If you are looking to move Starks, seek no less that a #3 rookie pick.  If you are looking to acquire Starks, do so citing his lower draft selection, advancing age (24) and sub-par ypca. to date.  At this point, you cannot give up the farm for an uncertain 2011 but he is sure to be a hot name in the off-season, and for good reason.

James Starks seems to be seizing the opportunity granted to him and can solidify further opportunities with a strong Super Bowl performance.  Should he steer clear of injury, and grind out tough yards against a stingy Pittsburgh run defense, Ryan Grant may find himself wearing colors other than the Green and Gold come opening day, 2011.  While not likely in my mind, it does remain a Stark possibility.

Jeff Haverlack
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11 years ago

Ryan Grant is a Green Bay Packer next year, barring a trade offer that TT cannot resist (and that is not likely to come from Belichick). His contract for 2012 represents great value for the team, given his reliability and while he’s getting up there in years only has 3 seasons of NFL football on his frame. As Starks is intended to be a Grant clone (with a higher ceiling) it makes perfect sense for the team to retain his services so Starks can learn from him and not have to be the man right away. Brandon Jackson will be taking his talents elsewhere. Starks will be the lead horse in 2012 assuming he can maintain his trajectory and avoid injuries.

11 years ago

would you rather have Ivory or Starks for next season?

Reply to  DWonderland
11 years ago

Starks 4 me

Reply to  DWonderland
11 years ago

They’re pretty close in value in my mind. I like how Ivory runs and have from the first time I saw him. But, he’s rather one dimensional and he may be a flash in the pan due to the that single dimension.

Starks can be an every down back for the Packers and fits their system very well. To me, he’s a Ryan Grant clone in the running but with great hands. If he can pick up the blocking/blitz schemes to stay on the field for all 3 downs, he has real potential. I wish he was 2 years younger.

I’d take Starks.

11 years ago

Stark possibility? Solid.

It would be foolish for Green Bay to move Ryan Grant this off-season. For all the reasons listed by Adam above plus one: Successful rushing teams always have two capable backs.

This trend extends all the way back to when the Packers were trotting out Taylor and Hornung. Brandon Jackson became a fantasy darling when Grant went down in week 1 but the reality is that Jackson is nothing more than a destitute man’s Reggie Bush. He is nothing more than a shifty back who is far better suited for passing situations and occasional work on the draw. What Green Bay has with Grant and Starks is a legitimate two headed monster that can regularly pummel defensive front 7’s next season. (read: trade Jackson and not Grant in 2011).

Finally, I think it more apropos to compare Starks and his potential to Eddie George. George was another high running, strong hipped, sure hands back that could move the pile, elude the initial tackler and burst through for big gains. A lot of media outlets are tempering expectations of Starks as his yardage has dipped since the game in Philly; but smart football fans know the Atlanta and Chicago defenses are stiff tests for a rookie RB seeing his first real action in over a year.

Reply to  Palmer
11 years ago

I don’t care for the Jackson/Bush comparison to any degree … but I’m not sure for which side it’s worse. 🙂 I also agree with you that they should hang onto Grant and ease Starks into a greater workload. Starks hasn’t proven to any degree yet that he can stay healthy.

I do like the Eddie George comparison though as he fits very well with Starks.

11 years ago

Green, Ingram…Starks? Wow. Time to find the owner of the 1.03 lol.

Reply to  Misfit74
11 years ago

Absolutely and without a doubt in this draft. I mulled over a potential deal for Starks for the 1.04 and couldn’t make that move. Of course, it depends on team need. There is no QB in this draft now worth a top 5 rookie pick and in my estimation there is only one WR in the top 5. Julio Jones could crack the top 5 but WRs that high are VERY risky. Depending on drafted situation, I could make a very good argument for taking Starks ahead of Ingram, but Starks’s situation is just a bit unsettled and he was an older rookie.

This is a very weak crop of RBs this year as far as rookies go. It will not surprise me at all if a RB drafted in the 6-10 range in rookie drafts becomes the home run of the draft. Just for comparison sake, I think Chris Ivory by comparison is in that 1.05 area if he’s in this rookie draft.

Reply to  DLF_Jeff
11 years ago

I see Starks ceiling as Ryan Grant, I suspect he’s not that good. No way do I part with 1.03 for Starks. I agree with Jeff that it’s a weak draft, but if I’m the holder of 1.03, I’m waiting for the combine. A clear #2 RB should emerge from the combine and solidify the 1.03 spot. Since Starks is at best the 7th player from the 2010 draft (Mathews, Bradford, Blount, Best, Bryant, Williams are clearly preferable with a number of arguments after that), I’d have trouble believing the 1.03 doesn’t have more star potential. Dynasty is about stars and due to age and injury history, I don’t see Starks as one. His biggest asset is that he plays for a great offense. I’d take my chance mining for that star…

Reply to  ScottD
11 years ago

Very possible. And for myself, I’d wait until the combine as well just to see who might emerge. I’m not expecting much though from the likes of Williams, Lehsoure, Thomas, etc.

Far too soon to say that Starks is the 7th best player of that grouping, he JUST got on the field and is in a great situation. I have many of those backs listed above Ingram and do agree I’d list them above Starks. But I’d also say most all of them are 1.03 or above in this draft. Although I’m fully off the Best train now. I think Starks is better than Grant and by a fairly wide margin. Grant developed nicely after going undrafted but still has questionable hands. Starks has amazing ability out of the backfield.

To me, the only significant issue is his injury history. Even his age, while older than I would like, still allows for many years of production if he’s able to nail down a starting spot by 2012.

11 years ago

I don’t care who you are. This is actually excellent stuff.

Reply to  Norman Hallack
11 years ago

Glad your enjoying the read … keep it tuned here, join the forums and make us your home if you haven’t already.

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