3. Devonta Freeman, Florida State (5-8 1/4, 206, 4.55): Rushed 173 times for 1,016 yards with 14 TDs last season for the national champions as a junior. … Caught 22 passes for another 278 yards and one TD. … Compact but solid athlete with good vision to make up for lack of ideal size. … Durable player with good football IQ who has room to grow.
4. Bishop Sankey, Washington (5-9 1/2, 209, 4.55): Ran 327 times for 1,870 yards and 20 TDs last season as a junior. … Also caught 28 passes for 304 yards and one TD. … Instinctive runner with impressive production – he led the Pac-12 in rushing last year and set a UW single-season record – who comes from a pro-style offense and could be an immediate contributor.
5. Jeremy Hill, LSU (5-10, 205, 4.49): Carried 203 times for 1,401 yards and 16 TDs last season as a third-year junior. … Also caught 18 passes for 181 yards. … Has terrific size for an NFL back and can get yards after contact. … Doesn’t show great vision but does get through holes quickly. … Character risk following multiple arrests.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Andre Williams, Boston College; Terrance West, Towson (Md.); Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State; Charles Sims, West Virginia; Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona; Lache Seastrunk, Baylor; De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon; James White, Wisconsin.
“Growing up with my dad being who he is, it just taught me how to stay hungry and humble. I just learned a lot from him and he helped me throughout my success, how to maintain and how to handle it. … I love music, but me making it? It's not a pretty sight. That's my dad's forte, that's not me.” – Mason, on growing up with a well-known father – DJ Maseo from De La Soul.
Position analysis: For a team that didn’t seem to put a priority on the running back position, it’s hard to imagine the Packers being deeper there now. Behind reigning NFL offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy are James Starks, who returned on a two-year deal after perhaps his healthiest and most productive year as the No. 2 man behind Lacy; Johnathan Franklin, a fourth-round pick a year ago who managed a 100-yard performance amid an up-and-down rookie season; DuJuan Harris, the team’s lead back down the stretch in 2012 who missed all of last season with a knee injury but is expected to be fully healthy; and Michael Hill, a promising practice-squad prospect who spent time on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster a year ago. (And don’t forget fullback/folk hero John Kuhn, who re-signed on a one-year deal last month.)
“Depth,” coach Mike McCarthy replied when asked what he sees at the position. “You could write this too: It's important for all of our running backs – now, they were young last year – but it's important for all of them to be three-down players. It was something that was discussed a lot ... For the way we want to play on offense, we want players to be three-down players so we want to keep our substitution limited. That's an offseason goal of ours.”
Draft strategy: In his first eight drafts in Green Bay, Packers general manager Ted Thompson selected only four halfbacks: Brandon Jackson (second round, 2007), DeShawn Wynn (seventh round, 2007); Starks (sixth round, 2010); and Alex Green (third round, 2011). Then came last year, when he took a pair of running backs – Lacy in the second round and Franklin in the fourth – in the same draft. Lacy was a home run at No. 61 – some projected that the Packers would take him with their first-round pick at No. 26 – while Franklin had a quiet camp and even his best performance, a 113-yard effort in Lacy’s stead at Cincinnati in Week 3, ended with a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and cost his team the game.
Nevertheless, the group made it cool again to run the ball effectively, as the Packers snapped the longest regular-season streak without an individual 100-yard rusher – a whopping 44 games – with three different backs (Lacy, Starks, Franklin) all turning the trick.
With Harris returning to health and Starks’ somewhat unexpected return, it’s hard to imagine the Packers using any of their nine picks on a back, unless it’s a return man who’s listed as a running back. Starks’ presence is the biggest reason: A year ago, he only carried the ball 89 times, but he averaged an eye-popping 5.5 yards per carry and scored three rushing touchdowns. His two-year, $3.166 million deal included a $725,000 signing bonus and a 2014 base salary of $750,000, indicating that his return was something the Packers viewed as important.
NEXT: Wide receivers.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.