In 2011, Ryan Grant teamed up with James Starks to rush for a combined 1,137 yards on 267 carries, with three touchdowns and a 4.25-yard average. Grant's contract then expired, and he was not retained.
Now, to NFL.com editor Gregg Rosenthal, running back appears to be the "thinnest position group on the team," "not an overly promising group" and "has potential to drag down Green Bay's otherwise incredible offense."
Is this a valid concern? Starks has been injury-prone over the last three years, missing his senior season at Buffalo and all but three games in 2010 before playing in 13 games last year. Backup RB Alex Green blew out his knee last year and is still rehabbing, Brandon Saine was an undrafted free agent in 2011, and Marc Tyler and Du'ane Bennett have yet to see an NFL training camp. Should the Packers be worried about handing the starting job to an injury risk and a few unproven backups?
The short answer, really, is no. The longer answer is both philosophical and realistic. Philosophically speaking, you really don't need a top rushing offense to win the Super Bowl anymore. Last year, the Giants averaged 89.2 yards per game, worst in the league. The 2010 Packers were 24th, the 2009 Saints were 6th, the 2008 Steelers were 23rd, the 2007 Giants were 4th and the 2006 Colts were 18th. And last year, the Packers had the 27th-ranked rushing offense and ran the ball fewer times than all but six teams. Did that hurt their offense? Only if you consider the No. 3 rank in the NFL a problem.
Realistically, the Packers can point to recent history for what to do if their No. 1 back goes down early. When Grant blew out his ankle in Week 1 of 2010, the Packers turned to a combination of Brandon Jackson (190 carries, 703 yards, three TDs) and John Kuhn (84 attempts, 281 yards, three TDs). They muddled through the regular season somehow, got 315 rushing yards from a suddenly emergent Starks in the playoffs and ended up winning the Super Bowl. It's quite likely, based on the last few years, that Starks will wind up missing time in '12. But the Packers' pass offense is so good that it likely won't matter. All Green Bay really needs are moderately effective bodies in the backfield, and Green, Saine and Tyler would provide that if Starks went down again.
Yes, the Packers don't have a bona fide star at running back, and the guy they're hitching their running game to is likely to miss time during the season. But they've dealt with that issue in the recent past, and both because of the nature of modern football and because their passing attack is so overwhelming, Green Bay likely isn't risking that much with their current setup at the RB position. In the worst-case scenario -- Starks goes down, Green isn't healthy and Saine, Tyler and/or Bennett aren't ready to handle it -- the Packers can always re-sign Grant off the street or make a trade for somebody's fourth-string backup running back. (Worked with Grant, didn't it?)
In all seriousness, Ted Thompson has often been faced with a lousy situation at running back, and he's usually been able to work his way out of it. He found Starks in 2010 and traded for Grant in 2007. Even in the dark days of 2005, Thompson plucked Samkon Gado off the street and somehow found the Packers a decent option at RB. It's not something I'm going to lose a lot of sleep over, Rosenthal's article aside.